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Australian premiere of documentary film Dakota 38


Steve Spinks
29 March 2012
Southern Cross University’s Coffs Harbour campus will host the Australian premiere of ‘Dakota 38’, a feature-length documentary on the largest mass execution in American history.

In 1862, 38 Dakota Sioux Indians were executed for their part in the Dakota Conflict, an uprising over the continued US encroachment on American Indian land around Minnesota and the US government’s undermining of Indian culture. Originally, 303 Dakota Sioux warriors were sentenced to death but 265 were spared after the intervention of President Abraham Lincoln.

In 2005, American Indian spiritual leader Jim Miller awoke from a dream in which 38 of his Dakota ancestors were hanged. At the time, Mr Miller knew nothing of the 1862 executions at Mankato, Minnesota.

“When you have dreams, you know when they come from the creator,” he said.

“As any recovered alcoholic, I made believe that I didn’t get it. I tried to put it out of my mind, yet it’s one of those dreams that bothers you night and day.”

On learning of the executions, Mr Miller and a group of riders decided to retrace the 330-mile (531 km) route of his dream on horseback across the great plans of the mid-west back to Mankato, arriving on the anniversary of the executions. ‘Dakota 38’ is the story of their journey, the blizzards they endured, the communities that housed and fed them along the way and the dark history of their ancestors.

The link between the film and Southern Cross University is through Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples and Johnnie Aseron, a Native American, who is a lecturer and international research liaison with the College. Mr Aseron is also a gifted musician, storyteller and artist.

“The shock waves of that mass execution still reverberate today among the Dakota people,” Mr Aseron said.

“The film remembers the 38 and also a group of Dakota who ride on horseback each year at this time to Mankato to commemorate the executions. The film documents the 2008 ride. It was a memorable trek filled with blizzards but also warm greetings from small-town residents along the way.

“We are showing this film in Australia because of the common experiences of the Indigenous peoples of North America and Australia.”

The premiere of the film will be part of the Cultural and Educational Exchange Forums at the Coffs Harbour campus on April 13 and 14. Mr Aseron is the organiser in conjunction with Dr Simon Wilde of the Southern Cross Business School.

The film will be shown on April 13 in the D Block lecture theatre from 7pm and a gold coin donation would be welcomed by organisers with the money raised going to help cover the costs of the production.

A trailer for the film can be found at

Photo: Jim Miller with Julia Brownwolf.