Colin Mustful has done a very good job in writing “Reclaiming Mni Sota” what he calls an “alternate” historical fiction novel. Not revisionism, but rather a thoughtful book that turns history upside down.. At its heart, this is a story of two young men. Waabi is seen as a young Ojibwa Indian who goes to a missionary school and whose family tries to live in accordance with the peace treaties. Samuel, is the son of a Vermont family who moves to Minnesota after the promise of free land and great prospects for prosperity. We follow these two through alternating chapters of the book and the author gives us a very good and sympathetic backstory for each young man and their respective families. Samuel’s family relies on government claims about life in Minnesota, while Waabi’s family does the same with regard to the numerous peace treaties which move the Ojibwa tribes out of their traditional lands and onto smaller and smaller areas, as well as the hardships they encountered due to decreased allotments of money and food from the government. Something has to give and this leads us to the Dakota Wars of 1862 in which Waabi now becomes part of a Native American Army and Samuel is in the US military – something neither of these two really wanted but are put there by circumstances beyond their control.
I will be the first to admit that while I knew a lot about numerous battles and wars in the Midwest and Southwest, the Dakota Wars is something that I know very little about. Despite that, this is a book about humanity and lack thereof by both sides. Both young men and their families are innocent victims in this War. The author has given us an authentic and well thought out book. Yes, it is alternative history, but the focus is on the individuals and not so much the reversal of history. Also we see natural resources come into play as both the Ojibwa people and Samuel’s family had a tragic episode over who has the right to cranberries grown in that territory, and the epilogue fast forwards to today where a lawsuit once again tries to figure out who has the right to the cranberries grown in that region. A very good, and a very easy and fluid read that is hard to put down until we come to the very end!