Wintertime for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate: Over One Hundred Fifty Years of Human Rights Violations by the United States and the Need for a Reconciliation Involving International Indigenous Human Rights Norms

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39 William Mitchell Law Review 486 (2013)


This article discusses the human rights violations perpetrated against the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota peoples leading up to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, during the War, and in the aftermath of the War continuing to the present day. In discussing these human rights violations, the role of the U.S. government and its component state governments as perpetrators of abuses on the Sisseton-Wahpeton peoples will be examined. Racial hatred by White U.S. citizens and officials will be examined as a primary motivation for the human rights abuses experienced by the Sisseton-Wahpeton peoples. Finally, the article presents the human rights outlined in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN DRIP) as the proper standards to be accorded to the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate and its people. With the realization of the human rights outlined in the UN DRIP, the future for the SWO would be significantly brightened, as when spring arrives after a long winter.

Over time, the citizens of nation-states around the world have broadened their vision of human rights and developed a greater sense of compassion towards Indigenous peoples. This evolution in the recognition of collective human rights was embodied in the 2007 UN DRIP. After centuries of colonization and exploitation of Indigenous peoples, the world community has begun to rethink treatment towards Indigenous populations.

This article will bring these standards to bear on the relationship between the U.S. government and the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. By comparing the historical and contemporary treatment of the SWO under U.S. law to the UN DRIP’s standards, the need to reconcile historical and contemporary injustices is highlighted. This reconciliation requires a more compassionate, mature, and wise application of human rights protections to the Sisseton-Wahpeton peoples in the aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota War.