Gustavus Adolphus students update exhibits at Lac qui Parle Mission site - St. Peter MN: News

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Gustavus Adolphus students update exhibits at Lac qui Parle Mission site

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Posted: Friday, September 6, 2013 4:00 pm | Updated: 11:16 am, Wed Sep 18, 2013.

Historians don’t spend all their time reading books.

At least that what Katelyn Juni, a student at Gustavus Adolphus College, says.

“Some of what we do is really vital,” Juni said. “Really current.”

Juni and seven other students from Gustavus will get a chance to prove that fact this semester. As members of Sujay Rao’s Public History class, they will spend the fall working on an exciting new service learning project, intended to get them out of the classroom and out into the field.

It involves delving in to the history of the Lac quie Parle Mission site near Montevideo for the purpose of designing and developing new exhibits and signs to place both inside and outside the small chapel.

The students have been ‘contracted’ to complete the project by the Minnesota Historical Society and will be guided by Nicollet County Historical Society Director Ben Leonard.

The current exhibits, which date back to the 1970s are in bad need of replacement, he said.

“It’s just a really boring exhibit,” Leonard said. “You walk in and it’s only an empty church. When I think about the history of places like that, I think about people. The history of this place involved people.”

The students’ task will be to capture the spirit of those who once frequented the mission — the Dakota, fur traders, missionaries and students — and to explain what role the site played in later conflicts with the Dakota.

The mission itself was established in 1835, and there the first Dakota dictionary, grammar and gospel were completed.

Joseph Renville, an explorer and fur trader whose mother was Dakota and father was French, had established a fur post at Lac qui Parle in 1826 and invited missionaries to the site.

Later, he was instrumental in maintaining good relations between the two groups. His familiarity with both French and Dakota culture, as well as his fluency in the Dakota, English, and French languages, made him a trusted intermediary among the people who lived and worked at Lac qui Parle.

After Renville’s death in 1846, Dakota opposition to the mission forced the missionaries out. The site, which was home to some of the earliest cultural encounters between the Dakota and European settlers, fell into disuse.

The mission’s original adobe chapel no longer stands but a wooden structure built in the 1940s by the Work Projects Administration features exhibits related to the Dakota and the missionaries who worked with them.

The site is managed by Chippewa County Historical Society. It is located 8 miles northwest of Montevideo on Chippewa County Hwy. 13, off Hwy. 59.

The students will visit the mission and meet with community members interested in the project on Sept. 24 from 5-6:30 p.m. during an open house. It will give the class an opportunity to receive feedback about the project and find out what residents would like to see included in the new one.

“The opportunity to do something in the community, for the community, I’ve never had that before,” Juni said. “That’s really exciting.”

The other students agreed and said they are eager to get started on the project.

“It’s pretty exciting because Gustavus is giving us the opportunity to work on history, not just learn about history,” said Sam Luby, a senior at the college.

Class members will also get the chance to meet with local historians and historical society curators to learn what it takes to design exhibits and help keep history exciting. They will also visit local museums and historical societies to help get ideas for the new exhibit.

“I’m really excited to take this class because it’s career exploration,” said Lacie Micek, another senior. “I really love history and I want to have a job where I can include it my life every day.”

Leonard said the chapel, which is still used once a year to hold services, is an important historical site. Descendants of the missionaries and Dakota that once lived at the mission meet for a day of unity and worship each July. More events may be held at the site in the future.

“It’s still a vibrant site today,” Leonard said. “It’s played a role in recapturing that culture for the Dakota, the missionaries and their descendants.”

Reach reporter Jessica Bies at 507-931-8568 or follow her on @sphjessicabies

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