Dakota Have Stories to Tell, Culture to Share

The Free Press (Mankato, MN), January 8, 2012



The Blue Earth County Historical Society is presenting 12 monthly events aimed at helping southern Minnesota learn about Dakota culture.

“Am I doing OK?” asked Joe Whitehawk, a Dakota, speaking to an almost exclusively white audience at the first event.

Dave Larsen, a Dakota, said he, like many American Indians, struggled much of his life to speak publicly about his culture because so much of the heritage and spirituality of his people had been systematically suppressed by government policy and laws.

“We were really lost beings,” Larsen said of American Indians after they were put on reservations and educated in boarding schools where traditional prayer, ceremonies, language and dance was prohibited.

The monthly seminars, being conducted in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the Dakota Conflict, are aimed at educating and building relationships in the wake of “pain that has rippled through generations,” said Sara Brave Heart of Mankato, one of the organizers.

Larsen, in an invocation to the “holy grandfathers,” asked that the painful past be used as an opportunity to learn and that the idea of revenge “is something that should be taken from all of our hearts and minds.”

The Dakota Conflict of 1862 resulted in the deaths of hundreds of white settlers and Dakota, ending with the execution of 38 Dakota in a mass hanging in Mankato. But the war against American Indian culture was still being waged as late as 1978 when a federal law finally ended official prohibitions against native religious practices.

Larsen and Whitehawk told traditional stories about the creation of the sun and the earth, of the origin of their ceremonies as gifts from White Buffalo Calf Woman, of the symbolism of water, fire, wood and rock.


Subjects Covered: diversity, education, personal storytelling

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