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Reconciliation event brings cultures together

Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls Color guards from the White Earth and Mille Lacs Bands of Ojibwe walk to the site of the Ceremony of Reconciliation Wednesday at the Southwest corner of 4th Street between Laurel and Front Street in downtown Brainerd. The location was the site of the hanging of two White Earth Ojibwe brothers in 1972 by a mob. 1 / 4
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls Members of the Mille lacs Band of Ojibwe drum during the Ceremony of Reconciliation Wednesday at the Southwest corner of 4th Street between Laurel and Front Street in Brainerd. The location is the site of the hanging of two White Earth Ojibwe brothers in 1872 by a mob. 2 / 4
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls Color guards from the White Earth and Mille Lacs Bands of Ojibwe stand at attention during the Ceremony of Reconciliation Wednesday at the southwest corner of 4th Street between Laurel and Front Streets in Brainerd. 3 / 4
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls White Earth Tribal chairwoman Erma J. Vizenor spoke at a Ceremony of Reconciliation Wednesday at the location in Brainerd where two brothers from White Earth were hung in 1872. A permanent marker will be placed on the site.4 / 4

As the sun shined Wednesday on the lush, green lawn of the Crow Wing County Jail at the southwest corner of Front Street and Fourth Street in Brainerd it was a setting not even remotely close to what happened at that site more than 142 years ago.

The year was July 23, 1872. Two American Indian brothers, members of the White Earth Nation, tragically lost their lives. The men were accused in the disappearance of a 22-year-old woman from Crow Wing Village. They never stood trial and were hung at the site of where the county jail sits for allegedly murdering the woman.

As part of Brainerd History Week, the White Earth Nation Indian Honor Guard presented its flags, during a piping ceremony at the site where the tragic hanging occurred hundreds of years ago. Before the Ojibwe reconciliation event kicked off, Terry Tibbetts of the White Earth Nation Council, conducted the tribe's traditional ritual called smudging, where he held sacred plants that burned and made smoke, that he waved to the spirit of the people who attended the ceremony. Smudging is a way to cleanse the person and cleanse the mind.

Tibbetts prayed for the two men who lost their lives so many years ago during the pipe ceremony and noted that justice was not served. He also offered the tribal blessing.

Brainerd Mayor James Wallin took part of the pipe ceremony and smoked the pipe.

"It is quite an honor to be here," said Wallin. "Of my 72 years on this earth, this is the most momentous occasion I've ever been a part of."

Wallin said the tragic event should never have happened in 1872. He said he is blessed that the city and the tribal nations can all work together to host the reconciliation event together.

Wallin read the proclamation and then organizers unveiled a replica of a reconciliation plaque that will be placed at the site.

Chairperson of the White Earth Reservation Erma J. Vizenor said, "We stand here today as relatives, as brothers and sisters, as human beings, whom we all were created ... and we come together. We cannot undo history of what had happened, but we can change what is happening today."

Vizenor gave the crowd a little history and said the reason why those men and other Native Americans were in the Crow Wing Village, a fur and logging community near Fort Ripley. She said many White Earth Indians came to the Gull Lake and Mille Lacs lake areas during that time when tensions were high with the European settlers. She said all they wanted to do was sell blueberries, and that was how the so-called Blueberry War got its name.

Vizenor said we are all on a journey together. She said every derogatory word is hurtful to all people.

Melanie Benjamin, chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, said "When we all do good, we all do good. This event shows us that we want to do good together.

"That event happened a long time ago, but if you are Native American you experience daily trauma of the racism."

Benjamin said they work hard daily to help their students do well in school to help bring the statistics of Ojibwe higher, as she said they are ranked in the lowest of the 50 states of test scores.

Brainerd Council Member Mary Koep said the reconciliation Wednesday was the one event of all the Brainerd History Week activities that is most dear to her heart, the one that she really wanted to make possible.

"We wanted to have this so bad," Koep said. "We had a few setbacks, but I'm so happy that it is here. It's a good thing to see people come together.

"If no one remembers this week, I hope they will remember this reconciliation. We can't change history, but how can we bring us all together as one family, one nation? ... "This is a day that will go down in history. We all came together with love and friendship."

Sarah Gorham of Brainerd said "I wouldn't have missed this event."

Gorham said she knew the history of the men and how they were lynched by reading about it on a photograph located at the Last Turn Saloon in Brainerd. She said she has a lot of respect for Native Americans and their culture and the reconciliation event was moving for her.

Douglas Birk, a 1961 Pine River-Backus High School graduate, said he drove from his home in Minneapolis to come to Wednesday's reconciliation event.

"I've always been a student of early Minnesota history," he said. "I studied it and realized all the pressure the military had on the Native Americans. How they owned everything and years later didn't own anything ... There was a lot of tension and underhanded dealings. I reach out and feel for these people."