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Dakota walk into history
About 25 people began retracing the steps of their Dakota Indian ancestors Thursday morning in southern Minnesota. In 1862, federal soldiers marched more than 1,000 along the same route. That march began 140 years ago, and led to the eventual exile of the Indians from Minnesota.

Worthington, Minn. — The group gathered at sunrise on the southern bluff of the Minnesota River valley near Redwood Falls. During introductions, most say they live nearby. But some came a long distance. Big Eagle came from Canada.

"Way up in northern Saskatchewan," he says.

The Dakota and some non-indian supporters begin their steps on the Lower Sioux Reservation. It's a wonderful day to walk. After several weeks of almost winter weather, the day has turned warm. As he soaks up the sunshine, Chris Mato Nunpa jokes that he may put on shorts. But he turns serious when he talks about what the walk means. He wonders what his ancestors thought, as soldiers forced them to march 140 years ago.

"People hungry, tired, cold, sickly and scared," says Mato Nunpa. "Don't know whether they're going to be killed."

In August 1862, a war began on this land. As the group walks along a county road, they pass a sign marking where the first shots were fired.

A group of Dakota started the war because they were upset with how the government was treating them. Money and food owed the Indians was not delivered on time. More than 1,000 people died in the war, including hundreds of settlers.

Most of the Dakota opposed the war and did not fight. Many helped settlers escape. But when the war ended, Mato Nunpa says, all the Indians were rounded up by federal troops and marched to Fort Snelling.

"For us, these aren't old wounds," Nunpa says. "These are still new and festering wounds. We had all this land. Now someone else has it. Somebody else enjoys the bounty of this land, and we are treated like strangers in our own land."

Every mile or so the walkers stop to pound a stake in the ground. Each stake has a red ribbon tied to the top. On the stake are the names of people who were in the 1862 march. The names are a reminder of all that was lost after the war.

From Fort Snelling, the Dakota went to a new reservation in South Dakota. Conditions were so bad there that many left.

Some went to Nebraska, North Dakota or Canada in search of new homes. Some walked back to Minnesota and started communities which still exist today -- near Prior Lake, Prairie Island and along the Minnesota River.

The abrupt exile shattered family histories. Gerald Standing lives in Saskatchewan. He hopes during the walk to find out who his Minnesota ancestors were.

"I don't even know, I'm just trying to find out," Standing says. "Maybe I'm related to some of these people here. I'll find out maybe along the road."

The group will sleep in schools, churches and other buildings along the way. They'll pass through some historic towns. New Ulm, where two battles were fought in 1862. Mankato, where 38 Dakota were hanged a few months after the war. Some of the walkers worry residents won't want them in their towns because of the war.

In New Ulm, the group will stay at Turner Hall. It's located on the same site where the original hall was burned during the 1862 war. Today, the hall is a social club and gymnastics center. Manager Richard Runck says the Dakota will be welcomed in New Ulm.

"There is no issue at all in this thing here," Runck says. "They're part of our country."

The walkers will cover more than 100 miles before they reach Fort Snelling Nov. 13. The walk is a way to step back into their history by honoring those who walked before them.

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