Mankato set to recognize Indigenous origin of its land

·3 min read

Jul. 25—MANKATO — In less than two weeks, the Mankato City Council is set to formally recognize that Mankato is located on Indigenous land that was forcibly taken by the U.S. government, that the Dakota were displaced from their original homes, and that efforts to suppress Indigenous people's culture and heritage continued for decades.

Council members reviewed the "land acknowledgment" Monday night and indicated a strong willingness to adopt it at the Aug. 8 meeting with plans that it be read at the 50th anniversary of the annual Mahkato Wacipi powwow in September.

"It's about time," said Council member Jenn Melby-Kelley, adding that she's had conversations with Indigenous people who will appreciate the gesture. "This place is home and they want to come back. This is a way to be a little more inviting as a community."

Edell Fiedler, the city's communications and engagement director, led the effort in conjunction with Dave and Sarah Brave Heart and other community members to make Mankato the latest of a relatively small number of cities and other government entities to adopt a land acknowledgment.

After the council initially expressed support for the idea in early June, specific language was drafted and presented at a work session Monday night. (See accompanying story for the entire text.)

The statement notes Mankato's unique place in American history — the location of the nation's largest mass hanging when 38 Dakota men were executed at the end of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

But it also pays tribute to the efforts at reconciliation that began with Dakota elder Amos Owen and Mankatoans Bud Lawrence and Jim Buckley, culminating in the first powwow a half-century ago.

"It was seen as a place of great trauma, correctly so," Council member Karen Foreman said of the Dakota view of Mankato. "... We can continue to mend those fences."

Although there appears to be broad support on the council for the land acknowledgment, Council member Dennis Dieken asked proponents to provide him a more solid understanding of its purpose, including the final line that state's that it "will serve as a living document to be reviewed and updated."

"It seems open-ended, and I guess I'm not understanding what the end goal is," Dieken said.

Megan Heutmaker, one of those who drafted the statement, said the final line aims to invite a continuation of the initiative and the possibility of future partnerships.

"The work is never really done," Heutmaker said.

Megan Schnitker echoed those thoughts and also talked of the importance of the document as an opportunity to educate.

A native of South Dakota, Schnitker now operates a local business called "Lakota Made" and she used her own family as an example of the importance of that continuing quest at education. When she decided to move to Mankato, her grandfather was worried, based on his understanding of the city: "He said, 'Why are you going to Mankato? They don't like us over there.'"

Long after she made the move, her grandfather continued to ask about her safety and well-being. Because of the work that's been done to promote understanding and peace, Schnitker said she can offer him reassurance when he asks if she's OK in Mankato.

"I say, 'Yeah, I love it over there, Grandpa.'"