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Minnesota Historical Society Native American Initiatives Announce New Exhibit, Dakota and Ojibwe Outreach

New department of Native American Initiatives collaborates on MNHS programs and services to better share Native stories

Today the Minnesota Historical Society’s department of Native American Initiatives announced a new permanent exhibit that will focus on Native Americans in Minnesota slated to open in fall 2019 at the Minnesota History Center. The exhibit will feature the history of the Ojibwe and Dakota, from ancient to contemporary works, and recognize the Ho-Chunk legacy in Minnesota. Using Western research methodologies and Native cultural stories, the depth and breadth of the MNHS collection and archives, this new gallery will guide visitors through the stories of Minnesota’s first inhabitants, their history, cultural traditions and what it means to live here.

The exhibit is just one of many projects being undertaken by the new Native American Initiatives department. Created in December 2016, the department is charged with developing and implementing a strategy for Native American programs and services in collaboration with Native American communities throughout the state and beyond. MNHS hopes this collaboration will result in programs that better represent and honor Native American peoples, stories and experiences at MNHS historic sites and museums.

MNHS hired Joe Horse Capture to serve as director of the new department. Horse Capture is a member of the A’aninin tribe of Montana and has worked as a curator at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

“Cultural institutions are in a unique position to collaborate with Native communities to better share their rich stories, especially since many institutions have the objects their Ancestors created,” he said. “As stewards of this cultural material, it is our obligation to work with Native communities as partners to share these stories and history with a diverse audience. This type of partnership can be very profound.”

Horse Capture is joined by two outreach and program managers. Kate Beane is a member of the Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe in South Dakota and works primarily with Dakota communities. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies from the University of Minnesota. Mattie Harper is a member of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe and works primarily with Ojibwe communities. She holds a Ph.D. in ethnic studies from the University of California, Berkeley and was a professor at the University of California, San Diego.

The Native American Initiatives department works closely with the Indian Advisory Committee (IAC), which has provided input and guidance on MNHS activities and initiatives related to Minnesota and Native American history for more than 25 years. The IAC is made up of tribally appointed representatives from each of Minnesota's 11 federally recognized tribes and at-large members. With input from a variety of sources including the IAC and MNHS staff, the Native American Initiatives department will focus on how to further develop relationships with Native American communities.

The department is also charged with managing historic sites and museums with Native American interpretive content at three sites: Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post, Jeffers Petroglyphs and Lower Sioux Agency.

Dakota Community Council

One of the department’s first initiatives has been the creation of a Dakota Community Council (DCC), known as a wi’wahokichiyapi or partnership, made up of Dakota members from Minnesota and surrounding states. The DCC’s objective is to ensure that Dakota people, history, perspectives and homelands are honored and sustained at MNHS properties within an area defined by the first treaty between the United States and the Dakota people in 1805.

The DCC and other stakeholder groups are collaborating with MNHS on the revitalization of Historic Fort Snelling, which includes a restoration of the landscape to include indigenous plants and medicines, renovating two historic buildings into a visitor center and orientation space, and presenting a new interpretive plan that tells the many complex histories of the area. Historic Fort Snelling is located at Bdote near the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers which is sacred homeland to the Dakota.

“This is an important milestone for MNHS,” said D. Stephen Elliott, director and CEO of MNHS. “The DCC partnership will support lasting educational opportunities for Dakota people and MNHS to create ecological landscapes, define land accessibility, incorporate Dakota language and increase understanding that the site is Dakota homeland by Dakota sharing their own stories there.”

Regular meetings between the DCC and MNHS will be scheduled through the end of the Historic Fort Snelling revitalization project in June 2020, at which time the partnership will be updated and renewed to continue further collaboration.

The Native American Initiatives team is looking into forming an Ojibwe community council.

Grand Mound Historic Site

Another major focus of the Native American Initiatives department is to gather community feedback about how to preserve for the future the Grand Mound historic site located near International Falls. MNHS closed the site in 2002 following a steep reduction in state funding.

For more than 2,000 years, Grand Mound has been a regional monument, sacred place and burial site. Many indigenous peoples have had cultural relationships with this place, including the A’aninin, Assiniboine, Blackfeet, Cree, Dakota, Ojibwe and others. Today the descendants of these people live across Minnesota and outside the state.

To honor the history of the site and its relevance to many people, MNHS is expanding community outreach—building on work already done within Koochiching County and with the Rainy River First Nations in Canada. MNHS is seeking input from additional Native nations and communities, including those whom researchers believe are the direct descendants of the people who built the mounds. Outreach will continue through spring 2018 with a preliminary report expected by summer.

About the Minnesota Historical Society

The Minnesota Historical Society is a nonprofit educational and cultural institution established in 1849. MNHS collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing. Using the power of history to transform lives, MNHS preserves our past, shares our state’s stories and connects people with history.

The Minnesota Historical Society is supported in part by its Premier Partners: Xcel Energy and Explore Minnesota Tourism.


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