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Shakopee’s Hocokata Ti cultural center is the place to be for Native American Heritage Month and beyond

“Yahipi kin waste” (or “welcome” in Dakota) signs greeted visitors to the Hocokata Ti – Cultural Center Saturday, as the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community hosted a first-ever Native American history, language, gaming, and culture day at the newly opened center. Located just off highway 169 on the Prior Lake Indian Reservation, Hocokata Ti is an impressive events facility, spiritually and architecturally built around the magnificent vista of seven tipis — one representing each of the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires — and featuring a library, event hall, exhibition space, theater, restaurant, and several meeting rooms.

Much of the center functions exclusively as a community gathering space and isn’t open to the public, so Saturday was a rare opportunity for non-tribal members to tour the building and learn about Native American history, including the ongoing exhibit “Mdewakanton: Dwellers of the Spirit Lake.” 

MinnPost took in the “CommUNITY Day” open house in photos and interviews:

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Open since July and spiritually and architecturally built around seven 40-foot high tipis, the 84,000-square-foot Hocokata Ti (“the lodge at the center of the camp” in Dakota) is a good place to visit in November, which is Native American Heritage Month.

Laverne and Vanessa Goodthunder
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Laverne and Vanessa Goodthunder. “We’re really excited; we’ve wanted to come and visit since it opened,” said Vanessa. “I love all the library resources they have. This library is very unique, because it has all the Dakota history and language resources in one place, and that’s always hard to find. We just learned from the secretary treasurer for Shakopee (Rebecca Crooks-Stratton) what they’re doing for educational prosperity, so I’m very excited to see that come out for kids.”

Teresa Peterson
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Teresa Peterson: “I’m here to do a book reading from ‘Grasshopper Girl,’ my first children’s book. I think what’s unique about this library is that it’s stocked full of native author books, and about native people who have been so invisible forever. Lifting up the stories of native people is so important, and it’s part of our collective history. Even as a native person, I really was unaware of the number of native author books that there really are, so that’s been very impressive. I don’t know of another library like this; I’d love to hang out here every day.”

Danny Seaboy
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Danny Seaboy led the drum circle seminar at the Hocokata Ti – Cultural Center’s CommUNITY Day in Shakopee.

Rebecca Crooks-Stratton
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Secretary/Treasurer Rebecca Crooks-Stratton addressed the audience at the “Understand Native Minnesota” seminar, which detailed the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s new philanthropy campaign for K-12 education: “Even though there has been access to curriculum, teachers don’t feel comfortable teaching it because they don’t have a good base of training teaching Native American studies from an indigenous perspective. Really, in most of our K-through-12 education across the country, we stop teaching about Native Americans at about 1900. So we talk about the Trail of Tears, we talk about Andrew Jackson, and new government policies, but then we don’t ever mention Native Americans again. So it largely leads people to believe that we’re gone; we’re invisible; we’re wiped out; we’re extinct. We have more than 23,000 native students here in Minnesota, and when you look at graduation rates, there’s a pretty big achievement gap there. This campaign will benefit all Minnesotans, because it’s good to know who our neighbors are. When we understand each other and can work together, it benefits all of our communities.”

Ernest Stevens, Jr. and Rebecca Crooks-Stratton
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Ernest Stevens, Jr. and Rebecca Crooks-Stratton addressed the audience at the “Understand Native Minnesota” seminar at the Hocokata Ti – Cultural Center’s CommUNITY Day in Shakopee.

Ernest Stevens, Jr.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Ernest Stevens, Jr.: “I’m the chairman and chief spokesperson for the National Indian Gaming Association based in Washington, D.C., [which is made up of] 184 member tribes. I’m an Oneida from just outside of Green Bay, Wisconsin. This day helps the people understand who we are, where we come from, our family, and our principals, and tribal government gaming is something that’s so special. If I could have this type of educational training at all of our sessions, if I could have it in the halls of Congress once a month, it would help so much. We’re ready, and we’re proactive to educate the needs of Congress, helping them to understand the true aspects of tribal government gaming. It’s an economic development tool that we’ve utilized since time immemorial if you go all the way back to traditional games. It’s something we’ve always done. We’ve always gamed. I’ve been coming here since I was young, and I’ve watched this area grow, and this is my first time here today. Another giant step forward.”

William Crawford
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

William Crawford led the history of games and gaming seminar at the Hocokata Ti – Cultural Center’s CommUNITY Day in Shakopee.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

History of tribal games and gaming chart at the Hocokata Ti – Cultural Center’s CommUNITY Day in Shakopee.

Sonya Seaboy
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Sonya Seaboy: “This place is important because we as a people need to revitalize, and promote, and continue our language, and we wanted a space dedicated to that — just to the language and culture, because it’s that’s important. Minnesota and also the Midwest has always been Dakota land. This is where we’re from. I’m a teacher and a student of the Dakota language, and the language is like a manual of life. It tells you how things were done, and how to do things.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Beadmaking at the Hocokata Ti – Cultural Center’s CommUNITY Day in Shakopee.

Todd Johnson
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Tadd Johnson: “I’m an attorney and a professor of Indian studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth. They asked me to come down from UMD today to talk about federal Indian policy in general, and I take folks through about 500 years of policy, starting with the incursion of the Europeans up to the modern day of self-determination and Indian gaming. I think this is a unique place where culture is preserved and history is preserved, and I think it’s an important part of the community — for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, and also for the greater community at large. There’s a unique culture right here close to the metro area, and sometimes it seems like Indian affairs is 7,000 miles away, when the reality is if you’re in Minnesota you’re within 200 miles of a reservation, and if you’re in the Twin Cities, you’re less than 30 miles away from this place. I think it’s important that the non-Indian population get to know the Indian population and some of their history, and what they care about.”

Kelly Randall
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Kelly Randall: “I’m a teacher for Wayzata Public Schools, and I’m here to learn more about the Native American community, and how I can change the narrative in my curriculum, and how I can spread the word and just become more involved. I know the achievement gap is difficult for the children of the communities, and it seems like their organization is pretty new and I’d like to become more involved and see how Wayzata can become more involved, too.”

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