Moody County Enterprise
“Can any of you act?” Dean Urdahl asked a crowd of about two dozen tribal members at the Wiciocaga Otipi Community Center late one recent Monday evening.
Urdahl, an author, history teacher and Minnesota State Representative, was in Flandreau talking with interested Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribal members about the upcoming low-budget film adaptation of his book, Uprising. The book chronicles, as accurately as possible, the U.S. Dakota War of 1862 — what started the war, why their Dakota ancestors took the steps that they did, and the ultimate tragic outcome.
He is looking for any number of local tribal residents that may help tell the story, but he needed to know, out of those signing up to be a part of the film, how many might actually have acting experience.
“It’s one of the biggest events in American history that no one knows anything about and even in Minnesota, where it’s supposedly taught, I think that there is a real dearth of knowledge about this event. This story has never been told in a feature film and until people actually know what happened, we can’t move on,” Urdahl told the Moody County Enterprise.
Those attending voiced concerns, mostly in regard to ensuring the accuracy of events and the end result not changing from the storyline that they’ve agreed to.
One tribal member walked out.
The rest, Urdahl did his best to reassure.
“We’re going to tell the story, tell it truthfully and we’re going to promote education, understanding and healing because the wounds of 1862 are still open,” said Urdahl.
David Kills a Hundred, spokesperson for FSST, said he was surprised the night went as well as it did and that so many tribal members may be interested in a role. “We all just want the story told right,” said Kills a Hundred.
Urdahl and his wife, Karen, also his editor, plan to start filming on September 8th. Most of the work will be done in Minnesota but at least one day, he said, will be filmed in Flandreau.
The author and history professor has written nine books, four of them dealing in some way with the U.S Dakota War. His passion for sharing the history, he said, lies in his own family’s ties to the war.
“My great-great grandfather came to Minnesota in 1856 and helped to found the city of Litchfield. He was there when the first five were killed at Acton and he helped to bury them. He was superintendent of the stockade that was attacked on Sept 4, 1862 and from my earliest childhood days, I remember going out to Ness Church, a small country church, where there are burial sites from the war — my mother would tell me stories about all of this and my family’s role in this. Then I got into teaching, and for 35 years, I taught about this. I used to take my students on field trips to the Lower Sioux Agency,” said Urdahl.
He’s tried to show the true history from both sides, he said, his entire life. In 2012, Urdahl was among those standing at the border, officially welcoming the Dakota home after 150 years — Congress had banished the Dakota from Minnesota after the war in 1863. Flandreau Santee Sioux’s JB Weston is the primary organizer of that event.
A non-Native, Urdahl said that as he gets older, he wants to ensure others know the full history while he can.
Rebecca Weston was among those listening to Urdahl that evening. Before leaving that night, she signed up to possibly be included in the film.
“I’m a little worried that it will trigger some emotions I’m unaware of and that I’ll ultimately have to deal with,” said Weston. “At the same time, it’s good because I want to make peace with the past and hope that others can as well. I think it’s time for our people to be courageous and step forward.”
She added that, while hesitant, she wants to give Urdahl and the film an opportunity to speak for itself. If it goes well, Weston said that she’s hopeful it will bring some healing.
Urdahl hopes for the same.
“What I’ve tried to do over the years, I’m not always right, I’ve made mistakes with what I’ve done and what I’ve said but my goal has always been to educate, to foster understanding and to promote healing.”