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Canku presents 1863-69 Dakota POW letters at Vanderbilt University

Clifford Canku, assistant professor of practice for Dakota Studies, presented “Dakota Prisoner-of-War Letters Following the 1862 Dakota Minnesota War” on March 16 at a special colloquium at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

He was joined by co-translators/editors Rev. Michael Simon and John Peacock, professor of language, literature and culture at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Simon, like Canku, is an enrolled member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate in North Dakota/South Dakota, and Peacock is an enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Oyate in North Dakota.

The presentation highlighted the translation project under way at NDSU, which is jointly funded by NDSU’s Gunlogson Fund and a grant from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe in Minnesota.

Written in the POWs’ native Dakota language, the letters reveal conditions at the prison camp at Ft. McClellan, outside Davenport, Iowa; descriptions of what happened during the war; and speculation about what might happen to the POWs after they learned that President Abraham Lincoln, who had removed their initial sentences of capital punishment, had been assassinated. 

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