Essay: Homestead

by Dr. Kate Beane

(This essay was written for the exhibition catalogue, Homestead, at the Nobles County Art Center in 2023)

Mni Sota Makoce, the Land Where the Waters Reflect the Sky, is a place of pure beauty and reverence. I say this as a Dakota woman who loves my homeland, and the stories she carries, in all of her wisdom and complexity. My family and ancestral story originates from this place. I am Bdewakanwunwan and Wahpetunwan Dakota, with direct ties to many of the villages along the riverways of what is today the Twin Cities metro area. However, I did not have the privilege of growing up in my ancestral lands of Minnesota because my family was removed after the Dakota war of 1862. Some of my ancestors fought in the war, others either chose not to, or held other responsibilities within the community. Regardless of what role they played in battle, all of my family was imprisoned or left Minnesota for their own safety. They made hard choices, during a time of war, to protect our people so that my children and I could be here today. We are thankful to every one of them.

My father was born and raised on our reservation in Flandreau, South Dakota, also known as Wakpa Ipaksan, or Bend in the River, just outside of Pipestone, Minnesota. After the war, when the men in my family were released from prison, they reconnected with other relatives at the prison camp in Santee, Nebraska and together they walked toward home. My grandparents knew they would not be able to return to the new state Minnesota, as bounties for Dakota scalps and revenge were still the reality of that time. They made it as far as a small bend in the Big Sioux river (a tributary to the Missouri) that looked like home, and here we became the first Native Americans to homestead, about 15 miles from Inyan Sa K’api (the place where they dig the red stone), also known as Pipestone Quarry.

The history of the spaces documented in these images are far too important to dive into in a brief essay. The Quarry itself is a space of deep spiritual significance for many Native nations, both historically and presently. A boarding school nearby holds the memories of many Native children, and their families and descendants. Over the years, as is true for many places, there is a sense that Native traditions and Dakota cultural ways are to be exploited for the entertainment of travelers venturing through the area. The photograph of the buffalo tied to the tree is representative of this.

These photographs by Sarah Sampedro, a descendant of southwestern Minnesota wasicu (white) farm owners, tell many stories of the land and the people who have called Mni Sota home for centuries. The images are taken by someone with a deep love and close connection to this place and the people who live here. It’s a different gaze than someone like me might have, but it is also searching for meaning and a pathway forward. As both Dakota and non-Dakota peoples, our stories here have always been interwoven, interconnected, and painfully distanced concurrently. Our eternal connection has been a desire for these lands, interpreted and translated through treaties as ownership to those who colonized this place, and stewardship by those of us who originated here. For over two hundred years we fought over her, and for her, in stories that sometimes only she remembers or will dare to tell. These memories of the land create magnetic pulls that bring us back time and gain, and yet there are human tensions that also drive us away, at times violently and painfully, from these same places. These connections and remembrances also demand attention and acknowledgement. The Traverse des Sioux treaty site is a place that impacts all of us who live in this territory. We are here because of, or in spite of, what occurred, hidden beneath the abundance of leaves, in 1851.

Our connection to the places we grow up, and to where our ancestors lived for centuries run deep for many reasons. For Dakota people in Mni Sota, it’s tied to being from here; according to our stories of creation our bodies were literally created out of this soil. We are the land.

There is a physical and emotional tether when our bloodlines come from this soil, and our grandparents’ sweat and tears have watered the dirt for a millennia. They either grew us, or dreamed us, into being here and it has become part of all of us, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. But our experiences, while connected, are not the same. A history of colonialism, capitalism, and broken treaties leave indentations on the landscape just as they do in our hearts. But we are still here, as is the land, and unfortunately we often have to fight to remain Indigenous and to help others understand why we remain so committed as the original caretakers of these places. We also have to work hard to keep our culture from being exploited.

At the same time Dakota peoples connections to these places and images are contemporary and not unlike anyone else’s. The Pizza Ranch restaurant is a place Where Friends and family gather, just as it states on the wall behind the couple eating dinner. As children, my siblings and I always looked forward to dessert pizza and pop at this same establishment when visiting our grandparents who lived on our reservation nearby. I identify with this photograph, as I do with the images of the battle site of Slaughter Slough and Horseshoe Hill. These places are all part of my story.

There is sereness to these images that I appreciate as a Dakota person who understands just how complicated the histories and relationships are within these spaces. For me it is not a peaceful quietness; it is contemplative and reflective, and often lonely. I appreciate that we as a collective have that moment with each image to stop, take a deep breath, and acknowledge our own existence and memories within these spaces.