ST. PAUL – State Rep. Dean Urdahl is prepared to send a resolution to Washington, D.C., requesting that federal lawmakers formally repeal a law which banished Dakota and Winnebago Indians from Minnesota.
The Indian Removal Act was enacted in 1863, during a period of turmoil in Minnesota. A war between white settlers and Indians left hundreds dead. Minnesotans demanded action from President Abraham Lincoln, who pardoned hundreds of Indians before ordering the hanging of 38 in Mankato, and then enacted the IRA.
Some 150 years later, the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission was created by the U.S. Congress to plan observances and events to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth on Feb. 12, 2009. The commission discovered the IRA still was on the books and Urdahl, Minnesota’s official representative to the group, authored a resolution to repeal the act. It passed the Legislature without opposition late in the 2009 session and then was approved by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
“This law has been in place for nearly 150 years and, even though it is no longer enforced, we’re asking that it be repealed,” said Urdahl, an avid historian and an author of two novels on the Dakota Conflict of 1862. “It may be largely symbolic, but the important thing is that we aid the healing process by getting a bad law off the books.”
Urdahl and others hosted a news conference Thursday, discussing plans to have Secretary of State Mark Ritchie deliver copies of the resolution to political leaders in Washington, including Minnesota’s elected officials.
Annamarie Hill, executive director of the state Indian Affairs Council, said she was unaware the IRA was still in place until Urdahl alerted her to the fact. Hill has since worked closely with Urdahl to not only generate support for repealing the act, but to shed more light on a painful sequence of events in Minnesota’s history.
“I do believe it is an act of symbolism and an act that says a lot today about the healing of past wrongs that were committed,” Hill said.
Dean Urdahl represents District 18B in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The district includes most of Meeker County and a portion of Wright County. This is Urdahl’s fourth term in the legislature after being elected in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008.