Before Northfield was founded in 1856 on original Dakota homeland, this place was cared for and inhabited by Dakota people. As first nations, the Dakota have been here for millennia, since the time of the glaciers, in what would become Minnesota. Wahpekute, Mdewakanton and other Dakota communities navigated the river long before the Europeans came to the Americas. One way to acknowledge the role we non-Native people have played in the oppression of these first societies, occupation of their homestead, and attempted erasure of their lifestyles is to connect with the history of Rice County. For good reasons it must not be forgotten: it informs our present and future, no matter how painful that history might be. Our goal now is to pursue ways to connect with our Native neighbors locally and beyond our city and explore ways to repair a relationship severed by colonization and genocide.

It was 2014 when the Northfield Human Rights Commission first approached the City Council to pass a resolution designating the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It failed then, but four years later, on October 2018, following the celebration of the International Day of Peace that revolved around Indigenous communities, it was approved and the resolution to celebrate the day was adopted by the City Council on Oct. 2, 2018. Since then, the Northfield community has been able to continue the healing path toward reconciling the past here on land that was and still is sacred to our Dakota neighbors. It includes the area where Northfield is today.

The Human Rights Commission was not the first in the Northfield community to raise questions about a need to heal our past. In 1992, the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas, a group opposed the celebration, as Dorothea Hrossowyc, a local advocate, often mentions. They offered instead “The Quincentennial Remembrance and Healing Project.” The members, including Native people, met monthly. One of the topics was how poorly the history classes in our schools include the Native history of our area. Things are a bit better now, but there is still room for improvement.

Shortly after adopting the resolution to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, community members from St. Olaf, Carleton and the broader Northfield area, along with the Human Rights Commission started to work on a Land Acknowledgement statement, embraced by the colleges and then approved by the city on Nov. 17, 2020. The group evolved into the Beyond the Land Acknowledgement Committee, no longer only associated with the commission nor the colleges, but as a community effort of many.

This year, as we approach the celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday, Oct. 11, Carleton has several activities and events prepared as part of their Why Treaties Matter exhibit and talks. These can be found on Carleton’s website. On Indigenous Peoples Day, several members of the Prairie Island Indian community will visit Northfield and share stories of their history and present contributions to this place.

We encourage everyone to follow the events and talks to learn more about the full history of our area and honor the Dakota still here on their homeland.

If you go:

Oct. 8: Carleton’s convocation will feature Professor of Ojibwe, Anton Treuer, discussing the close-knit relationship between culture and language, 10:50 a.m. at Carleton’s Skinner Chapel.

Oct. 11: Prairie Island Indian Community will be sending a number of their staff to Carleton that day along with a tipi and exhibit materials about Prairie Island, and with additional ceremony and program elements, including the history of Prairie Island Indian Community. This will be from noon to 6 p.m.

Virtual presentation from Native Governance Center from 6 to 7 p.m. “Healing our future: Indigenous wealth building for seven generations.” The event will provide attendees with an overview of Indigenous wealth concepts and a deep dive into how Indigenous people are building wealth in their communities.

Mar Valdecantos and Kristi Pursell write behalf of the Beyond the Land Acknowledgement Committee.

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