Application for Dakota Project Consultant
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to submit my resume and a short review of my history, experience and knowledge as application to assist with the Minnesota Historical Society’s Dakota History Project. Please consider this letter a brief compilation of my personal experience and background as it may be related to your project.
Speaking and sharing of Dakota history is a true pleasure of mine. I feel this way because Dakota history really is one of the under-researched gold mines of Minnesota and American history. It has been over-shadowed by the Civil War and by the war of it’s cousin, the Lakota Plains Conflicts of the Great Sioux Nation.
I am an enrolled member of the Red Lake Nation. My parents were members of both the Ojibwe and the Dakota communities in Minnesota. My father was from Lower Sioux Indian Community and my mother was from the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. So I am the proud product of what I call an indigenous dichotomy. We spent many years shuffling between St. Paul, Red Lake Indian Reservation and Lower Sioux Indian Community. St. Paul has always had a significantly activist Ojibwe/Dakota/Hochunk community. We spent every summer in Red Lake and Lower Sioux, and many other Indian communities visiting relatives, going to pow-wows and attending ceremonies. So I consider myself to be very fortunate to have had a trilingual (Dakota,Ojibwe,English), multi-tribal and cross-cultural family history experience.
Much to my advantage the St. Paul Indian families were very cognizant of and loyal to their cultural roots, history, traditions and languages. So throughout 50’s, 60’ and into the 70’s there were always annual cultural events to attend as many families spent their free time together in a very close knit community. It was at these events that the youth got to hear the languages spoken, tribal stories told and re-told, and observe pertinent tribal traditions practiced with much reverence and respect. And these stories were always given by men and women of respect and stature.
I want to start with a story that was told to my family in North Dakota at the Turtle Mountain Chippewa-Cree Indian community. “They say” that during the winter of 1862/63 when many Bdewakantowan Dakota Tewahe (Dakota/Sioux families) were forced to leave their homelands and move west, some of them travelled through the Turtle Mountains where they were taken in and cared for by the Cree until they were able to continue traveling. During this time there was a sharing of traditional knowledge, and cultural and spiritual expertise. There were inter-tribal healing ceremonies that took place as many were suffering from illness. And so in gratitude and in remembrance of that time spent with the Dakota the Windigokhan, or spiritual beings of the Cree began to wear two different type moccasins during their ceremonies. On one foot was the Cree design and colors and on the other was Dakota design and colors. And so now during their annual Sundance, the Windigokhan always appear during the healing round wearing the two moccasins. The Dakota exiles then continued on north into Canada where they settled several communities, including present day Sioux Valley and Dakota Tipi.
I’ve always considered (Minnesota) Dakota history to be a living oral history. It is constantly being challenged, defended, and embedded into the fabric of everyday Dakota family life. Dakota history and Dakota life among the Dakota are one and the same. You cannot separate the two, nor can you isolate the effects of one from the other. In the same way life and spirituality among the Dakota cannot be individualized, or compartmentalized.
Recently there has been a significant re-emergence of interest, diligence and commitment to the preservation and revitalization of Dakota language, history and cultural significance. This revitalization has had it’s particular focus on language and it’s authentic interpretation, as all else that is culturally significant is derived from this root source. Without the Dakota language to use as a reference point there is only cultural death and decay.
For example in the Dakota creation story “they say” that the Ikce Wicasa were originally part of a group of creatures that resided deep in the Wasun Wiconiye , but in order to understand this story and relate to it you must have a nominal command of the language in order to gain an appropriate interpretation of it’s full meaning. You must also have a generic understanding of the male and female linguistic derivatives and how they apply to any given situation.
These oral teachings make up the integral components of the oral traditions. These stories and the in-depth meaning of the stories hold the mystery of the authentic. This is how the Dakota maintain a true national hegemony when in alignment with other nations. Although this method of historical cultural transference is not unique to the Dakota, it is recognized that the Dakota were first among the Seven Council Fires in origin and therefore the oldest of the Council Fires. These fires are also represented by the seven brothers that make up the celestial constellation typically referred to as the Big Dipper.
In order to keep the traditions of oral teaching and interactive learning alive, you must return to the root of all Dakota knowledge, which is the language. Within the language is the key to understanding the universe and how we are related to the mystery of the cosmos. Once you understand the Dakota view then you are in a receptive alignment to understanding the Nakota and Lakota cultural intricacy.
The history of the Dakota Nation in Minnesota is a very diverse, difficult, sensitive and a vital historical record. Like many other historical conflicts and campaigns in Indian country, it brought out both the best and the worst of human attributes, character, and values. Many of the oral stories surrounding the Dakota Conflict have been handed down from family member to member. As a collection they are very powerful.
The highlight or focus of many anthropological research efforts in Minnesota have been the Dakota Conflict of 1862/63. But there is a lengthy prelude and an extended post-script to these centrally located events. They must all be seen as folding into one another, overlapping, and of having a tremendous effect on all individuals whose families survived these events and lived through those poignant times.
In my opinion, Minnesota Dakota history must include a preliminary review of events leading up to the 1862 Dakota Conflict. Perhaps beginning with the events surrounding the 1805 Treaty and the involvement of US Army’s first Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, who mistook his location for the headwaters of the Mississippi. There must also be a thorough understanding of the political, social, and psychological consequences of the mass exodus and seclusive hibernation of the Dakota Oyate both in the American Upper-Midwest and in Canada.
I’ve had the privilege teaching Dakota history and culture to a variety of audiences since 1971. Along with the wide range of Indian history as a whole, it formulates in one sense a magnanimous epoch in the development of American history in general, and Minnesota history in particular. In another sense, it reflects an American disaster in cultural relations. The personal research I undertook in order to teach a history of truth revealed a very wide scope of untapped information never before provided to those who deserved it most, native youth.
To speak of the Minnesota Dakota presence in present tense, is to speak diametrically of our existence because in actuality we are not supposed to be here, we were to have been categorically and legislatively expelled from Minnesota Territory as a community, and as a nation in 1863. It is only due to certain circumstances that existed within the Dakota communities themselves that created the opportunity for a small contingency of Dakota to remain in Minnesota. It is this particular historical anomaly that served as a conduit to the presence of the three major Dakota communities we see today in Minnesota.
One can refer to the Dakota as a Nation (Oyate) because as a nation they faithfully entered into historically legal contracts, or federally recognized treaties (1805-1858) with the United States government. Those treaties are still currently viable and legally binding. They also continue to bring a significant bearing into the present day relationships between the U.S. government and the Dakota communities.
In 2010 I organized the 1851 Dakota Treaty Conference that was held at Redwood Falls, Minnesota in January 2011. This treaty conference was a result of many discussions taking place among Dakota elders with regard to the current viability of the Dakota Treaties. There were participants from all of the Dakota communities including those from Canada. The day of the conference there was a huge snowstorm. Despite the weather the conference was a success. Several individuals who were eager to learn and share knowledge, came together and broadened the Dakota network and connections to the treaties. We continue to pass along interesting research and treaty meetings are taking place in several Dakota communities.
I feel very fortunate in that I have had the advantage of being mentored by some of the best that Indian Country has had to offer. Early in my career I met many mentors, including several who were in leadership positions within the American Indian Movement, the National Congress of American Indians and the National Tribal Chairman’s Association. These mentors offered a direct solution to the problems that existed for Indian students in mainstream educational systems. This was important to me because I had seen what the current systems were, and were not, providing for Indian youth. The answer, of course, was Indian child-centered curriculum and Indian administered systems of educational training and learning. This was the system that I wanted to be a part of and I began at the ground floor in the research and development of the American Indian Movement Survival Schools for Self Determination. There I had the freedom to select the best that relevant literature, art, history, science, and politics had to offer and synthesize that work for teaching Indian students.
As a last point of information, in late May I am scheduled to teach a seminar in Dakota history and culture to a group of students from Carlton College at Northfield, Mn. This seminar is to be held at Birch Coulee Battlefield where we will be discussing the Dakota Conflict and the circumstances surrounding that event. My contact for this seminar is Dr. Jay Levy, Professor of Humanities, office phone: 507-645-8565, for reference.
I would hope that I have given you somewhat of an insight or glimpse of the qualifications I posses and that they would be of some service in the project you are committed to fulfill.
If there are any questions that I can answer or any discussions that I might be a part of, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Sincerely at your service,
Ronald P. Leith
116 W. 5th St.
Redwood Falls, MN 56283