Windows and Mirrors - (Ex) Termination - Florence Sprague - February 2022

How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look wrong, and wrong look right.

—Black Hawk, An Autobiography (quote seen on plaque embedded in the sidewalk in Iowa City)

Many LWVMN and LWV of Roseville Area events now incorporate an acknowledgement that our
communities are located on the ancestral lands of Native Americans, the Dakota and Ojibwe peoples here in
Minnesota. I did not initiate this custom, coming to it after hearing it at several events. We are all aware at
some level that the entire North American continent was totally reallocated, reorganized, and just outright
taken from indigenous peoples by European colonists due to orthogonal understandings of the concept of
property and a massive power differential. The land grants from European kings to early colonies had no
ethical foundation and treaties under which millions of acres of land were ceded in the 1800s were grossly

That said, I was unaware that in the 20th century, even more land and some of the supposed compensation for
earlier transfers were taken from many tribal nations via House Concurrent Resolution 108, (1953)
( authored by Utah
Senator Arthur V. Watkins. This resolution sought total assimilation of Native Americans, denial and erasure
of their tribal identities, and the abrogation of treaties leading to loss of promised services, loss of land, and
greater poverty. It is couched in the language of equality of rights, but also of responsibilities such as taxes,
while allowing the government to break treaty agreements. 113 tribal nations were terminated under this
policy, and 1.3 million acres of land were lost to the people of those nations (p. 447). It is oddly selective in
the areas covered; it would be interesting to know why it appears that Minnesota was not included. It speaks of
Indians being “freed” of federal supervision; but the party most “freed” was the government. This began an era
of termination that did not end until about 1970. Native Americans born on the territory of the United States
had their citizenship confirmed by the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act. This was not welcomed by all on either
side of the racial divide, with some states restricting voting rights and some native nations fearing loss of
Noted author Louise Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, one nation named in this
Resolution. Her recent book of historical fiction, The Night Watchman, centers on the efforts of the people of
Turtle Mountain to resist being terminated by this resolution. Her own grandfather was deeply involved in that
work and the fictionalized version of him, pondering the language of the Resolution, presents it this way:
     “For days, he’d tried to make sense of the papers, to absorb their meaning. To define their unbelievable
     intent. Unbelievable because the unthinkable was couched in such innocuous dry language. Unbelievable
     because the intent was, finally, to unmake, unrecognize. To erase as Indians…all of us invisible and as if
     we never were here, from the beginning, here.”
This piece of history, lost to me before, is interwoven in this book with other painful issues, such as sex
trafficking, poverty, and alcoholism. The characters share with the reader a culture of community, empathy,
and connection to nature and to the spirits of loved ones; they share their internal monologues as well as their
daily lives.
As with Erdrich’s other books, this one is well worth reading and pondering. Her writing deftly makes the
unbearable from which we tend to turn away, into something that we can see more clearly.