I don’t know which was worse,
whiskey or the church.
Bob Brown, Chair
Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota
Tribal Community 1996-2003
By Susu Jeffrey Original direct to Rise Up Times April 17, 2021
The greater Twin Cities area is Dakota Territory. Local groups trying to be politically correct sometimes announce “we want to acknowledge that we are in Dakota and Anishinabe land.” No. That announcement is tantamount to saying we want you to think we are culturally attuned but actually we are too lazy to do the research. This is Dakota land.
Two years after the Louisiana Purchase, in 1805 when European-American troops first invaded this area they treated (made a treaty with) Dakota people. It is referred to as the Pike Treaty. The “treaty” was ratified but never proclaimed, is of questionable legal authority and, for that reason, has never been tested in federal court.
The treaty included (vaguely) 9-miles of land on either side of the Mississippi River from below the confluence with the Minnesota, north to the Falls of St. Anthony “for the purpose of the establishment of military posts.” Meanwhile the Dakota people retained the rights to “pass, repass, hunt or make other uses of the said districts, as they have formerly done.”
In the most recent of three attempts to put the 1805 treaty on trial, in 2006, charges of “failure to obey a lawful order” were dropped rather than chance being tested in a legal review. What would be fair recompense for approximately 100,000-acres that is now Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington including the airport and Mall of America?
From 1805 to 1866 indigenous people were forced to cede (to give up power and control over) almost all of Minnesota’s 55.6 million acres of land and water.
Just Look at a Map
Today a Minnesota map shows the four federally recognized Dakota (ally) reservations in the southern part of the state and seven Anishinabe (the good people) bands up north indian reservations map mn – Bing images
The Prairie Island Indian Community is in Red Wing where the Vermillion River joins the Mississippi, 40-miles southeast of the Twin Cities. Prairie island community members are descended from the Mdewakanton (“those who were born of the waters”) Eastern Sioux. In 1886 the island was reserved for Dakota returnees exiled after the 1862 Dakota Uprising during the Civil War.
By 1936 the island was recognized as a reservation. Since the 1990s the community has been building up its free-range herd of bison that graze along the Mississippi River floodplain and provide food for the people. The herd of buffalo are contained on the island because the steep, muddy banks prevent the shoulder-heavy animals from climbing up and out.
Xcel Energy, formerly Northern States Power, built the first of two nuclear power plants on the island (1973 and 1974) using river water for cooling. A casino opened in 1988 allowing the band’s economy to improve above sheer poverty.
The nukes were relicensed after their 40-year lifespan to operate another 20 years until 2033-34. In addition to the two pressure water reactors the corporation stores extremely hot high-level spent radioactive waste in dry (not submerged in water) above ground cask storage on the island. There is no plan to move the hot N-waste off the island because there is no receiving location for it.
The nuclear waste is three blocks from the Indian community. Despite cancer and cancer threats to the community, members have not unanimously decided to evacuate the island. On August 26, 1994, 12 nuclear-free, nonviolent activists were arrested at Prairie Island protesting N-waste on a floodplain island in the middle of the upper Mississippi River on Dakota land.
At the trial of “the Red Wing 12” the 26 jury pool members reported 28 cases of cancer in their families. In a karmic coincidence during the trial 12 nuclear plant workers were contaminated. Defendants argued “eminent danger,” were found guilty of criminal trespass, fined $50 each which could be donated to a charity, and sentenced to write an essay on “The Dangers of Tobacco Smoking.”
Anishinabe elder and co-founder of the American Indian Movement (AIM), Clyde Bellecourt, spoke against cigarette smoking during the occupation in 1998-99 of south Minneapolis land for the expansion of Highway 55. “Smoke carries prayers up,” he told land protectors. “When you’re walking around smoking cigarettes you confuse the spirits.” Traditionally smoke is taken into the mouth but not into the lungs during pipe ceremonies.
During the 1980s in Goodhue County, home of the Prairie Island double nuclear power plants, breast cancer death rates rose 29-percent. In Wabasha County, the next county downriver/downwind, the breast cancer death rate was up 162-percent in the 1980s but reported in the newspaper as 62-percent dropping the 100 typo. The area is known for dairy cattle especially across the Mississippi in Wisconsin.
Current plans for the Prairie Island nukes are to convert the plant to hydrogen production using nuclear power to split the two hydrogen atoms from the one oxygen atom. When tiny children get cancer it is probable genetic damage to a parent is the cause of the disease.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) in Prior Lake and Shakopee, Scott County, along the Minnesota River has a hugely successful casino operation supported by the greater Twin Cities population. Stanley Crooks served 20-years as reservation chairman while the community became the nation’s wealthiest tribe. After his death in 2012 Mystic Lake Casino began serving alcohol and the ambiance changed. Tribal members get generous monthly allowances from casino profits.
In addition to two casinos the community has invested in a variety of businesses and is the largest employer in Scott County. In 2019 SMSC provided $15-million in charitable donations.
The Dakota were given the choice of exile or extinction. Lacrosse, played with Lacrosse sticks like the one pictured here, is a traditional game played by many Native peoples as a ceremonial practice.
The Lower Sioux Indian Reservation is along the Minnesota River near Morton MN. It is the home of Sheldon Wolfchild whose research and films explicate the papal 1493 Doctrine of Discovery permitting European explorers to claim all non-Christian lands and to dominate people living on those lands. The doctrine is incorporated into the U.S. Constitution and is part of “settled law” observed by the Supreme Court.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg used the Doctrine writing for the majority in a 2005 decision against the Oneida Nation of New York in their attempt to exercise sovereignty over repurchased tribal land. In her 27-year Supreme Court career, Ginsburg said, Oneida v. Sherill was her most regretted decision.
Like the other three Mdewakanton (people of the mystic lake) Dakota reservations in Minnesota, Lower Sioux is a small land grant, just 1,743 acres, a dot on the map with a tribal population of 982 in 145 families.
Lower Sioux is teaching Dakota language/culture emergence and creating curriculum focusing on early Head Start.
The Upper Sioux Indian Reservation near Granite Falls on the Minnesota River was established in 1938 and currently has a land base of 1,440 acres with a population of 482. The reservation has a casino-resort, convenience store, RV park and campground and internet service.
The Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Tribal Community from Mendota at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers remains unrecognized by federal authorities. This community holds no land and has no recognition by federal, state or local governments. The Mendota Dakota Community is a small, poor group of descendants of the original Mdewakanton people who have held on at the sacred meeting of waters, the b’dota, but who are not recognized as equal by other Dakota governments.
The confluence is the traditional historic claim of the Dakota oyate (people/nation) place of origin, their Garden of Eden. It is also the location of the Dakota concentration camp where 1,300 people were imprisoned after the 1862 Uprising in which 500 to 644 white people were killed and uncounted (literally) Native people also died.
The indigenous revolt occurred after the Euro-invasion with its loss of subsistence land, when treaty rights were violated and the former hunters and gatherers were starving although promised food stores were locked in local warehouses. Thirty-eight Dakota men were hanged simultaneously in 1862, the day after Christmas in America’s largest mass hanging. Hitler studied the U.S. treatment model of Indian people in his plans for “the final solution.”
After the 1862 Uprising that lasted six-weeks, Dakota people were given the choice of exile or extermination. Some of the “friendlies” were permitted to stay, quietly, along the Minnesota River however, all Dakota treaties were nullified and annuities were voided. Constitutionally treaties are “the supreme law of the land” (Article 6, Section 2).
Rights to the whole of Dakota homelands in southern Minnesota were relinquished in a series of forced treaties, some 24-million acres. Treaty paper, T.P., toilet paper.
Many Mdewakanton families had relatives on both sides of the 1862 Uprising. Also exiled were the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) who had almost no part in the flighting. Despite being forced to leave some Dakota returned to their familiar Minnesota River heartlands. State authorities blew up the top of Pilot Knob hill above the Mississippi-Minnesota confluence so returning Dakota would not recognize their sacred b’dote.
Meanwhile the state of Minnesota offered bounties to those bringing in Indian scalps even into the 1900s. Little Crow was killed near Hutchinson, Minnesota the afternoon of July 3, 1863 while picking raspberries with his son. A $500 bounty was given to his killer. Little Crow’s scalp lock, head and two forearm bones were exhibited at the State Historical Society. In 1971 his existing remains were buried in a family plot in South Dakota in a ceremony attended by his grandson.
The historic trauma of centuries of anti-Indian policies in the state shows in today’s statistics where the original people rank, in descending order, below Asian, white, black and Hispanic populations in high school education. While other states celebrate and market Indian history, arts, cuisine, healing and environmental wisdom, Minnesota holds onto its patriotic abomination.
Grandmother and grandson pair up for the Potato Dance. Hands are clasped behind the back while on-lookers laugh at the hilarious positions the dancers get into while trying not to let that potato slip. Last couple with their potato wins.
It is said Dakota women had more than 300 recipes based on acorns—everything from soup to bread. There are six indigenous kinds of oak trees in the state. Sugar bush, the tapping of maple trees in early spring and boiling down the sap for sugar is still practiced in the old way if you can find out where.
At Coldwater Springs atop the Mississippi gorge just upstream of the confluence, a 10,000-year-old spring still flows, albeit at the reduced rate of 68,000 gallons per day down since 1999 from 130,000 gallons a day. It was the water source for Fort Snelling (1820-1920) overseeing the confluence, the place where the first civilian settlement existed and since 2011 is a national park.
“We begin history here in 1820,” claimed National Park Service former Superintendent John Anfinson. Just across the Mississippi a 9,000-year-old bison spear point was found. This is an example of the land telling the story rather than the invaders’ account.
Historically Dakota, a Mississippian people, gradually migrated northwestward, generation-by-generation from what is now South Carolina, the Santee/Lake Marion geographic region. They journeyed above the Great Lakes and settled around Lake Superior.
The Dakota were pushed south by Anishinabeg people who traded furs with French explorers for superior weapons. The late Anishinabe spiritual elder Eddie Benton-Benai spoke of his people’s origin in testimony ordered by state Judge Peter Albrecht on March 19, 1999, on the St. Paul Capitol grounds. About 900-950 A.D., Benton-Benai said, his forbearers began a 900-year migration from the Atlantic mouth of the St. Lawrence River westward across the Great Lakes. The Anishinabeg (also called Ojibwe or Chippewa) are Abenaki descendants who speak an Algonquin language.
Anishinabeg people found the prophesied place where “food grows on water,” wild rice, and established the fur trade along the water highways around the Great Lakes. They swapped furs for guns, among other metal goods, and pushed the Dakota southward in the 1700s where the inevitable clash with U.S. “manifest destiny” exploded after a century of animal fur harvesting.
To confuse the Dakota and their traditional enemies, the Anishinabeg, is a cultural insult.
Both Arabs and Jews are Semitic peoples with distinct languages, religions and histories. Similarly, Indian nations developed unique cultural practices, traded and fought with each other as neighbors historically do—and intermarried.
Nicollet Island in the middle of the Mississippi River just above mi-ni-ra-ra (curling water), the falls now called St. Anthony, was a traditional Dakota birthing island. It was a safe place away from Anishinabe enemies accessible only by canoe.
The roar of the great waterfall would mask any infant cries while mothers taught their newborns not to cry aloud by covering the nose and mouth. The babies learned fast not to make noise that would give away the position of the people. There are many miraculous stories of hidden Native infants found alive after massacres when silence meant survival. Quiet is also an animal and human defense for invisibility as well as a behavior useful in learning by observation.
There is evidence of Native Americans in the b’dote since a 9,000-year-old bison spear point was found at the Sibley House dig in Mendota in 1996. Bison at that time were about twice the size of today’s buffalo. State archaeologist Robert Clouse theorized that the animal got cornered in the backwaters of the confluence. The spear point was mined from an outcrop along the Minnesota River near what is now Mankato. Clouse said the people would have noticed the rock during their annual food migration around the land as the cycle of seasons and available food progressed.
There are many things we could learn from Dakota people such as the science of watching plants and animals and the cultural imperative of humility and respect.