Wisps of Hope, Rising
On traditions, remembering, and taking action
Today I’m going to share a version of part of a chapter in Collisions of Earth and Sky - along with some parts of it that didn’t make it into the final draft, but I thought it might be okay to share here in newsletter form. It’s always a little odd to share excerpts, since you only get a part of the story, but I’ll share anyway. You’ll get the basic idea. I’m sharing this particular excerpt because holiday time gets me thinking about and taking part in family traditions. And because this year, a year that’s been a really challenging one with extreme winter weather in Minnesota and South Dakota (and many other places..),— the Dakota 38 + 2 Wokiksuye riders still rode the 330 miles from Brule, South Dakota to Reconciliation Park in Mankato, MN, to honor the life lost 160 years ago.
I come from a family of farmers—from four generations ago in Norway and Germany to central South Dakota where my uncles still cultivate the land my grandfather farmed. My folks taught us how to plant seeds, grow vegetables organically, and cook creatively (even though I didn’t always appreciate those “creatively cooked” dishes as a youth). So I grow garlic, potatoes, carrots, kale, and tomatoes year after year, even when it’s hard, like when bugs or small rodents or wild turkeys eat half the crop and I feel like throwing in the spade. I try to save some of my own seeds, swap with others when I can, and order the rest of what I need for a gardening season from Seed Saver’s Exchange. We preserve as much of the harvest as we can, share what’s in abundance, and eat together as a family. My dad’s mom was a champion canner, and while I haven’t mastered the art of pickling like she had, jars of pickles, tomatoes, and other preserves line our cabinet and freezer shelves every year. When the baseball bat sized zucchinis overtake the kitchen counters, my maternal grandma’s zucchini bread recipe comes out. I freeze loaf after loaf to help sustain us in the winter months.
Just after we got married, Nick and I took a community education class and learned to make Lefse from an elderly Swedish woman in an effort to claim part of our shared Scandinavian heritage. We got our own Lefse making supplies shortly after and have been making a big batch every year since, and our daughter has embraced the practice wholeheartedly. Nick’s paternal grandmother’s goulash recipe is in the regular winter dinner rotation. We get out the German advent calendar each Christmas, and eat now and then at the local German restaurant. It feels important to stay connected to these things, even though traditional German food isn’t my favorite. It’s part of where I came from, and I want to remember that. I hope growing up with this closeness to where food comes from and the rituals of preparation and preservation help my daughter remember her roots and offer her a sense of belonging.
I also actively have to remember that as the descendent of settlers with European heritage, I’m a visitor on this land that we steward now in Minnesota, just as much as it’s home. Much of what I have access to is because of generational wealth: The Homestead Act of 1862 granted my farming family access to colonized lands. I may always be unpacking and reconciling the complexities of this reality, yet I don’t want to wait until I have it all figured out (I don’t know if anybody truly gets it all figured out..) to incorporate this evolving understanding of what it means to be a good ancestor into everyday living. As a coach, I am always telling people that I do not have their answers (as much as they sometimes want me to have them)–only they can truly figure out what the best course of action is. I don’t hand coaching clients a tidy 10-step solution for healthy living, because that’s not something that exists. It can take a good long while and lots of conversation to elicit the responses that lead to positive change. Even still, sometimes it is tough to remember that I don’t need to have a resolution for everything, immediately. When I find myself wanting to be able to offer an immediate lesson from these stories of remembering and returning, I have to remember that I am not done learning myself.
On February 12th, 2020, the state of Minnesota returned 114 acres of land along the Minnesota River to part of the Mdewakanton Band of Dakota (a group federally recognized as the Lower Sioux Dakota.) The land that was transferred is called Cansa'yapi, meaning "where they marked the trees red." It is the site where the U.S./Dakota War began in 1862. The conflict between the United States government and the Dakota people began when the United States refused to distribute the food and supplies stored at the site, violating its treaty.
Robert Larsen, the Lower Sioux chair, said in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, "Our ancestors paid for this land over and over with their blood, with their lives. It’s not a sale; it’s been paid for by the ones that aren’t here anymore." The U.S./Dakota War lasted six weeks. After it ended, President Abraham Lincoln ordered the hanging of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota. Another two were captured and executed a few days later. It is the largest single-day execution in United States history. (This is why the riders mentioned at the beginning of this post, many of them desendants of the men killed in 1862, are riding, and have been each year for the past 17 years.)
On October 9, 2021, Angela Two Stars’ (Dakota, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate) sculpture Okciyapi (which means Help Each Other) was unveiled at the Walker Art Center. The sculpture, which provides a space for visitors to interact with the Dakota language, rests in the same area of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden that once housed a sculpture called “Scaffold” that was partly inspired by the execution in Mankato in 1862. (Though it was intended as a symbol to denounce capital punishment, it was deemed traumatizing during mediations with Dakota elders and ceremoniously dismantled and burned in 2017.) In a press release, Two Stars said that she “specifically chose this site with the awareness that there was a need for healing, for both the community and the land itself. As part of the installation process, my family led a ground cleansing ceremony at the site, to help all of us to move forward in positivity and celebration.”
Every time a person remembers what they need to remember, in order to connect with an essential piece of themselves, and acts on that remembering, it’s another wisp of hope, rising.
A colleague introduced me to Steph Big Eagle’s work a year or so ago, and I’ve been keeping up with what she’s doing since. And this year she decided to join the ride to honor her Dakota relatives. On Day 14 of the ride this year, as they navigated through the brutal winds and frigid conditions of the wide open spaces of the plains, she said, “It's extremely powerful to ride with these warriors, who are determined to carry these prayers for our ancestors and future generations. Thank you most importantly to the Sunka Wakan Oyate, the Horse Nation, for being such beautiful partners in this ceremony to bring reconciliation and healing to our Dakota relatives.”
The riders made it to Mankato yesterday, and the community came together at Reconciliation Park to lift up the healing that has happened, and that which is still to come. And we are all part of the healing that is yet to come—the more beautiful world needs us to be.
There is work to do yet. I’ll be continuing to explore ways I can add to the healing of my direct community and the larger collective, and taking the actions necessary to contribute. There is work to do yet. But there, even on the frozen ground that has seen so much pain, there are wisps of hope, rising.
Ordinary Collisions: Intersections of Nature & Culture is a reader-supported publication. Please consider becoming a subscriber.
Folks in Pine Ridge and Rosebud have been hit really really hard with blizzard conditions, power outages, and extreme cold in the last few days. Many are in need of assistance due to impassable roads over the holiday weekend. To aid those who are in position to help, you can donate here: ROSEBUD SIOUX TRIBE BLIZZARD RELIEF FUND