To better face our future, we must understand and learn from our past.

To better face our future, we must understand and learn from our past.

From the first day white Europeans set foot in the new world, the destinies of native peoples of North and South America would be forever altered.

Manifest Destiny was the 19th and 20th century American belief that the United States was destined to expand across the North American continent. Manifest Destiny had serious consequences for Native Americans, since continental expansion implicitly meant the occupation and annexation of Native American land. Indians were encouraged to sell their vast tribal lands and become "civilized," which meant (among other things) for Native American men to abandon hunting and become farmers, and for their society to reorganize around the family unit rather than the clan or tribe.

An increasing number of Americans regarded the natives as nothing more than savages who stood in the way of American expansion. That was the case in Minnesota in 1862 when Dakota warriors led by Chief Little Crow led an uprising against white settlers and the United States Army. Facing starvation and the end of their way of life, the Dakota reacted as oppressed peoples have over the centuries — with violence.

The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 happened right in our back yard, along the Minnesota River Valley. But it's a story that until recently, most Minnesotans knew little about since it was not taught in most of our schools prior to the 1990s. Montevideo Middle School teacher Steve Rohloff said he has been teaching a 3 1/2-week course on the Dakota war in his sixth-grade American history class since 2001.

The story of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, or Custer's Last Stand, on June 22, 1876, is the most well-known battle of the Indian wars. Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, a hero of the Civil War, and his 7th Cavalry command of 225 men were killed by a force of 2,500 to 3,000 Sioux and Northern Cheyenne.

Ten years prior to that, 80 soldiers under the command of Capt. William Fetterman were killed by Sioux warriors led by Crazy Horse. Fettermen had boasted that he could ride through the entire Sioux nation with 80 men.

More whites (estimates range from 600 to 800) were killed in Minnesota in 1862 than in any of the other wars between whites and Indians.

Alexander Ramsey and Henry Hastings Sibley were two of the most prominent figures in the history of Minnesota. Ramsey was the first territorial governor of Minnesota and the state's second governor. Sibley, who was the first governor when Minnesota became a state in 1858, led the state's military forces against the Dakota in the war of 1862. Schools in Montevideo were named in honor of Sibley and Ramsey.

On Sept. 9, 1862, Ramsey reacted to the killings of the roughly 600 soldiers and settlers when he addressed the state Legislature. "The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state."

Today, comments like that would be considered racist but, in 1862, men like Ramsey and Sibley were considered heroes by the vast majority of Minnesotans. When Ramsey spoke at the dedication of the Camp Release monument in Montevideo on July 4, 1892, public opinion on the war of 1862 had changed little. The Dakota were savages who had to be exterminated or at least driven out of Minnesota.

Nearly 150 years later, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton denounced Ramsey's words.

"I am appalled by Governor Ramsey's words and by his encouragement of vigilante violence against innocent people and I repuduate them. The viciousness and violence, which were commonplace 150 years ago in Minnesota, are not accepted or allowed now."

Dayton declared Friday Aug. 17, 2012, as a day of remembrance and reconciliation and called for flags to fly at half-staff.

Minnesota Attorney General Henry Warren Childs represented Gov. Knute Nelson at the Camp Release dedication ceremony. Like few others of his time, Childs knew the time had come to put the hatred and resentment of the Dakota people to rest.

"Learn wisdom from this lesson of the past," said Childs. "Pluck the poisoned arrow from your hearts at once. Otherwise you become useless as citizens."

It's a lesson we can all learn from.