Browse Exhibits (6 total)

Before Stillwater: American Indian Incarceration in Territorial Minnesota

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Minnesota became a territory of the United States in 1849, and its first prison opened in 1853. By 1914, the Stillwater Prison became a large operation with more than 200 holding cells. Prior to 1853, Minnesota punished and incarcerated criminals at Fort Snelling or in small county prisons. This carceral history has had particular impacts on Native Americans.  In the contexts of penal reform and Dakota removal, Native Americans were subject to Minnesota Territorial law. This topic explores the history of incarceration and capital punishment of American Indians exemplified by the case of Yu-he-za, a Dakota man who was the first person to be executed in Minnesota. 

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St. Peter State Hospital

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**1866 and the Present**


St. Peter State Hospital opened its doors in 1866 to patients that needed treatment from far and wide. The original temporary facility used by patients at St. Peter was the Ewing House. The Ewing House served as a hotel from 1855 to 1862 where it was abandoned and then used as a temporary infirmary for citizens that were wounded in the New Ulm Indian Uprising and also as a home to wounded Civil War veterans. Several temporary buildings were erected to house the increasing number of patients while the permanent facility was under construction from 1868 until the whole of its completion in 1875. Some of the temporary buildings stayed in use until January of 1885 since there were always incoming patients.

The St. Peter State Hospital legacy still lives on today as the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center. Instead of treating people for idiocy, imbecility, suppressed menses, masturbation and mania, they now treat people with mental illnesses, chemical dependency issues, and they also provide pathological gambling services, adult aftercare services, and relapse prevention services.

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The African American Experience in Early Minnesota

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Eliza. Frederick. William. Horace. Lizzy. Harriet

These are just a few of the many enslaved or indentured men and women who lived on Fort Snelling and in other parts of Minnesota during its territorial and early statehood days.  Their status in Minnesota, a free northern state prior to the Civil War, may be surprising, but they existed nonetheless.  Many were associated with Fort Snelling, serving commanding officers and their families, but a few traveled alongside missionaries and traders to other parts of Minnesota or labored in Minnesota's first cities.  Some, like Joseph Godrey or James Thompson, were fortunate enough to have parts of their stories recorded by historians, while others exist only as a name or a description of skin color.


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Shakopee Women's Reformatory

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How does incarceration protect the status quo and deny alternative lifestyles? How did the Progressive Era reformatory movement use incarceration to further social agendas? Reformatories aimed to turn lesser criminals into outstanding citizens by providing role models and education.


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Reservations as Incarceration


     This exhibit examines the nature of a type of carceral institution which exists without physical walls; specifically, the Native American reservation system within the United States. It examines the roots and historical fallout from the many overlapping and conflicting events that led to the creation of formal and informal reservations, including continued land loss and attempts to exterminate Native American culture in all forms.

     These documents and photographs are intended to show the progression of what life on a reservation has meant from their inception to the present. The exhibit examines what means to exist in an intergenerational carceral landscape. The institutional walls in this case are cultural, economic, legal, and, above all, convoluted. An intentional focus point of this exhibit is to present viewpoints of individuals who have personally experienced reservation life, both now and in the past. 

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Prisons and the Native American Community

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"The closest thing to hell on earth is prison. It's the worst experience I've ever had in my life. Besides death." - Duane Chapman

Incarceration in prison can be many things to many people. For some, it’s a rehabilitative experience, for others, it is as the above quote. Though many, many people never have to experience prison except through TV shows. For many Native American's, that is not the case due to over-representation within the system. This exhibit not only will walk you through what incarceration can be and what a prison is/its history but highlight the issues the imprisoned Native American's face.  Ranging from prison litigation, over-representation within the prison system, and shared history of Native Americans facing incarceration in prison.

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