Spectral geographies in Mni Sota Makoce; or spatial misremembrance and annihilation of a Native past in Kandiyohi County, Minnesota

Authors: Molly Lou Pintok*, , Gareth John*, St. Cloud State University, Minnesota
Topics: Cultural Geography, Historical Geography, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: memorials; commenoration, memory, Native Americans (Dakota); spectral geographies
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Grand Ballroom C, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the center of the City of Willmar, in Kandiyohi County, Minnesota (Mni Sota Makoce), stands an imposing 17-foot golden statue of ‘Chief Kandiyohi’. The statue portrays the Native American modestly adorned in feather headdress and loin cloth, clutching in one hand a spear and a crop of freshly caught buffalo fish in the other. Molded in shiny gold glass fiber, Chief Kandiyohi cuts a striking figure. Yet no such person is known to have existed. As the county historical marker next to the statue unabashedly explains, “Kandiyohi is [merely] the nickname the Indian symbol received.” Rather than a memorial to or commemoration of the Dakota heritage of the county for which the statue is named, Chief Kandiyohi is, we argue, instead symptomatic of the romantic spectralization of Native American heritage throughout the county—a process which misremembers and thereby annihilates Native history and presence from the land. In this paper, we draw on recent scholarship in cultural and social geography in the analysis of historical highway markers, museum exhibits, and archival sources, to reconstruct the ‘spatial narrative’ of Kandiyohi County’s paradoxically concomitant claim to and separation from its Native American heritage. Ultimately, we contrast that narrative to Dakota understandings of their relationship to this region, as told in oral histories and gleaned through interviews with regional Dakota scholars, and ponder the future of the (mis)representation of Dakota culture in a heartland region of America that resonates with post-truth politics.

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