Dakota Artisans

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Robbie Robertson:
Trickling back from South Dakota and Nebraska, a handful of families formed the nucleus of the Birch-Cooley settlement at a place they called Cansayapi—“They paint the trees red.” By 1886 there were sixteen teepees and a few small farms near the banks of the Minnesota River.

David Larsen, Cansayapi Tribal Historian, Lower Sioux Indian Community:
The 1880s was essentially when the biggest number came back. We bought the land we’d never been paid for. Paid for the land that was our land that was taken away. It’s hard to understand, but buying land that was ours that someone else took away and promised to pay—we had to pay for it, even though it was ours.

Ernest Wabasha, Lower Sioux Indian Community:
We didn’t have money to go buy meat. We had to go hunting and fishing and so forth. And if we didn’t get anything we didn’t have any meat that day. So we grew up on a lot of potato soup. They thought all the Indians were dying. And they called us the disappearing race. They didn’t know we were back in the hills.

The villages of the Dakota once lined the shores of the Mississippi River. Towns like Red Wing and Wabasha were named for their chiefs. In the late 1870s, stories began to circulate that Indians were camped on an island upriver. Red Wing’s people had returned.

Curtis Campbell, Sr., Prairie Island Indian Community:
Prairie Island used to be one of the better places to gather medicine. I couldn’t speak for all the families; I can only speak for one. I’ve always got to remember that. The family that raised me came back here primarily for medicine and that our relatives are buried around this area. I do it sometimes myself, you know. I know what they look like, where they are, what they are used for, because that’s the way I grew up. All the different hunting techniques, and all the different gathering techniques, and also philosophies that went with them. They stress how these pertain to Mdewakantonwan’s way of life.

Fern Kraushner, Prairie Island Indian Community:
Prairie Island was what you call a real community. The Indians and the non-Indians, they all were a community. They went to church together. They had social gatherings together.

A few White farmers helped shield the Dakota people from the outside world, and the Dakota helped them in return. Prairie Island had sandy soil and was a miserable place to farm. In the face of severe poverty, families did many things to survive.

Fern Kraushner:
Hunting and trapping, putting on Indian shows, like at the state fair. My grandma and I, and my mother, we would go away to Lake Minnetonka, to that big hotel they had over there. And we’d sell souvenirs there, to those rich people, come from the east coast to vacation, and they would buy all our beadwork, three cents apiece for those doll moccasins. They had to make 500 a week—the family together—to make $15, you know, so we could buy groceries. When I was a child my favorite memories was running and playing out in the woods, down by the river, play all day long. We’d fish, we’d swim. We didn’t realize, but we were bringing food to the home, because we would be fishing all day. They had to work so hard to survive, you know? And they never gave up. Never gave up. This is home, this is home. I don’t care how many years you live someplace else, this is home to them.

David Larsen:
I think there’s no question that there is going to be reunification in Minnesota. Maybe we’re not all going to move back, but we’re all going to come back and we’re all going to put together what needs to be put together. We’re going to put that circle back together.

from Dakota Exile, “Coming Home”
Courtesy of Twin Cities Public Television – TPT and Minnesota Video Vault

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