There is a spiritual movement, a renaissance or awakening in our Native communities across the country, to reclaim lifeways that are the oldest on this continent. Reclaim, rename, revitalize, call it what you will, it is happening. Our future depends on growing strong leaders.
The Dakhód wičhóȟaŋ, or sacred lifeways of the Dakota cannot be severed from place. The people have a memory and so does the land and the sky. In concert, they communicate these thousand years memories, good or bad, that maintain the strength of the people. What happened to Native peoples in Minnesota is historic, but it does not define who we are.
In the early morning hours, “haȟ’áŋna” there are Dakota people stirring and moving near a circular structure of willow and cedar in prayer, waiting to greet the first break of dawn as it pierces the center of the structure through the east gate; Wiwáŋyaŋg wačhí is about to begin. Outlawed as sacrilegious for over a century, the spirit of the people remember and honor, wókíksuye k’a wóyuonihaŋ, the prayers for the people. Since the passage of The religious Freedom Act in 1978, our prayer practices have become “legal” in Mni Sota Makoče.
Some Call It the New Buffalo
Adjacent to this ancient ceremony and only a few miles away, is the bustling shift change of other people, the largest percentage being white Minnesotans, beginning another day at work at the Casino. They are preparing to do their job to ensure that all the moving pieces of a major hospitality enterprise work successfully. This exemplifies a sovereign nation exercising it right to make their own decisions about providing sustenance to the people. In fact, they are their County’s largest employer, and an important contributor to Minnesota’s economy. Like their ten sister nations in Minnesota, they are all the largest employers in their county. Some call it the new buffalo, a way of sustaining the people so the people can live. We call it sovereignty in action.
Other examples of returning to cultural lifeways for sustenance is reflected in the preservation of clean water, our first medicine, and the revitalization of the wild rice which was endangered. In a typical year, over 13,000 tribal members in Minnesota hand-harvest about 9.6 million pounds of wild rice.
Impact of Tribal Gaming
In a 2016 impact study presented by Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, Tribal gaming was the second-largest tourism draw, second only to Mall of America. All eleven sovereign nations were the largest employers in their counties. Tribes purchase more than $717 million in goods and services annually, including more than $482 million from Minnesota businesses.
During 2015, Tribally-owned off-reservation enterprises in Minnesota purchased over $41.0 million in goods and services for on-going operations including almost $28.0 million from in-state Minnesota vendors (approximately 67.1 percent). The report named tribes in Minnesota as the 14th largest employer in the state. These are huge contributions, yet little known by the average Minnesotan. Also invisible are the huge philanthropic donations.
These are examples of making decisions so the people can live, these are our spiritual laws, original instructions, and obligations for taking care of the people. What’s happening here is a confluence of historical, cultural, environmental, political, and spiritual actions reclaimed, those same actions that allowed life to flourish for thousands of years.
In the span of 160 years since Statehood, the decisions made by invaders have polluted every lake, stream, spring, and river in the State. You may not even recognize this unless you are a pregnant woman in Minnesota who is advised not to eat the fresh, yet tainted fish because of the high mercury content. You may not even recognize that a place named Rice Lake actually bears no rice at all. Why? The health of the rice reflects the health of the water.
Nearly 150 years after Gov. Alexander Ramsey called for the extermination of the Dakota people or exile beyond the borders of this state, his modern-day successor denounced his words and actions in a public ceremony that also called it out for what it is, appalling.
“I am appalled by Governor Ramsey’s words and by his encouragement of vigilante violence against innocent people, and I repudiate them,” Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement released to the Star Tribune during a celebration of the Sesquicentennial. “The viciousness and violence, which were commonplace 150 years ago in Minnesota, are not accepted or allowed now.”
Dayton went further and called for flags to fly at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on August 17th, 2012, declaring it a day of remembrance and reconciliation on the 150th anniversary of the start of the six-week U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. Have we turned a corner?
In response to a call to action a House Select Committee on Racial Justice was established by the Minnesota Legislature in 2020 (see Minnesota Laws Second Special Session 2020, House Resolution 1, Appendix A) to declare and address racism as a public health crisis and to ensure House legislative efforts are analyzed through an intersectional racial equity lens. Perhaps they are learning a thing or two about leadership and decision-making. Perhaps they will finally recognize the resilience of a people targeted for land theft and genocide creating a fierce and financially stable comeback. Perhaps they recognize that 4% of Minnesota’s eligible voters are Native – enough to determine the outcome of any statewide election.
Minnesota Paradox is a new term used to illustrate the tale of two states with specific groups of Minnesotans experiencing a high quality of life and other groups of Minnesotans experiencing poor outcomes and persistent racial disparities. It is one that our now Governor Walz uses often. We personally did not build this structure, but we are now the owners and it is our responsibility to tear it down.