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News & Archives

Our media database includes the latest news footage and archives of past Mahkato Wacipi Committee articles. Here you will find the collection of publications and reports dating from the organization’s inception, all the way up to the present day. Check out some of our featured articles below and learn more about our efforts.


May 30, 2020

An aerial view shows the arbor constructed at Land of Memories Park.


September 23, 2019

Spectators seated under the new arbor at Mankato’s annual pow wow got more shade than previous years on Saturday.


November 17, 2018

The Mahkato Wacipi Education Day received an honorable mention in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota's annual Local Government Innovation Awards.


September 24, 2017

MANKATO — Mahkato Mdewakanton Association Chairman Dave Brave Heart estimates about 700 public and parochial school students participated in 2017 Education Day sessions Friday. A variety of programs were provided to help the youths gain insight into the history and lives of Dakota people.


Mending the wounds


As the site of the nation's largest mass execution, Mankato was largely avoided by Indians. But thanks to the annual powwow, the city has seen a spirit of reconciliation.

Joe Tougas - Mankato Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO - The main cultural celebration in Mankato is one that has managed to go beyond recognizing one group and instead has served as a significant healing force for those hit by a painful part of the city's history.

In the course of its 30 years, the Mah-Kato Powwow has managed to bridge a historical gap between Dakota Indians and the white settlers, two sides of the bloodiest Indian War in the United States. Because of the powwow, many Dakota will tell you, a town that had historically meant large-scale death and antagonism to many Dakota now makes a different impression.

"It's almost less intolerant than any other town around," said Glenn Wasicuna, a Dakota teacher in Prior Lake.

From a Dakota point of view, that's an astounding symbolic turnaround, given that the Dakota Conflict in 1862 ended with the simultaneous hanging of 38 Indians in Mankato, the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

When Bud Lawrence met Amos Owen and struck up a friendship that would result in the Mah-Kato Powwow, more than a century had passed of Mankato being seen as hostile to all things Indian, a safe assumption, given the efforts taken to eradicate the Indian culture and spirituality across the country.

Dave Larson, a Dakota from Morton, grew up in an atmosphere where Indian children were basically instructed to forget their ethnic heritage and customs, including their religion. Shortly after the Dakota war, Dakota language was forbidden in schools. This continued into the late 1960s and early '70s.

"One of the most racist things you could do is take away someone's identity," said Larson, who grew up an angry fighting man.

An adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota, Larson has also taught classes at Minnesota State University and Gustavus Adolphus College. He holds himself out as a consultant for colleges in teaching Dakota history. The breakthrough between the gentle intellectual and the angry drinker came through warrior training from an uncle.

"I was fighting all the time. I thought that's what a warrior does," Larson said. He was in his 30s in 1979, drinking and angry. Today, he's learned to soothe the anger not with alcohol, but with forgiveness.

"Forgiveness doesn't mean what happened is OK," Larson said. "but it's not your responsibility to carry it on and carry the anger."

Since becoming a warrior in 1979, he said, he has not raised his hand to anyone. The powwow's ceremonial sweat lodges - purification ceremonies led by an elder - encourage the reconciliation and forgiveness.

"When we go to a sweat lodge, we ask the creator to take whatever anger we can't control and take it away from us," he said.

To Larson, the Mah-Kato Powwow was one of the few gatherings where the ceremony had an open-ended feel to it, rather than the typical theme-oriented gatherings about health issues or chemical dependency. By contrast, the Mankato powwow was a place to talk about anything - particularly the experience of being Indian in the 20th century.

"We didn't have any place to do that kind of thing together," Larson said. "Here, it's just about being Indian. We're finally finding each other."

While an impressive social event for the whites and the Dakota, spiritual components permeate the powwow as well. From the sweat lodges that offer purification ceremonies to the light-step, hard-step moves of the dancers - even the people talking on the microphones throughout the event spreading good words - all of them have a significant spiritual task, Larson said.

"Without your connection to God, to the supreme being, you've got nothing," he said.

And key to that connection is the preservation of the Dakota language, something that Glenn Wasicuna is helping through a series of classes in Prior Lake.

Growing up in what is now the Sioux Valley Reservation in Canada, Wasicuna as a teen-ager attended a residential school three hours away from his home. He had grown up in a home where his parents spoke Dakota fluently. And because the conditions of the reservation were poor, they were happy to abide by the government's education program that sent kids such as Wasicuna to residential schools.

"What they did, in effect, was take me away from my mom and dad and their teaching," he said. "Last of all, they took me away from my community."

At school, students were instructed to not speak Dakota. He recalls one instance of punishment for doing so: copying by hand an entire English dictionary page.

When Owen was elected tribal chairman of the Prairie Island Mdewakanton community in 1965, Lawrence decided to honor his friend by walking from Mankato to Red Wing, joined by a Winnebago student from MSU, Barry Blackhawk. Lawrence made the trek again in 1969, joined by Jim Buckley, director of the YMCA.

During a jog in 1972, Lawrence and Buckley were talking about ideas for an annual event that could focus on area culture. Thinking about his friend in Prairie Island, Lawrence tossed out the idea of having the Y's Men sponsor a genuine Dakota powwow in Mankato, with the whole town invited. He knew he could count on Owen to help coordinate such an event - the two men have talked over the years about putting such an event together.

With approval from the club and help from then City Manager Bill Bassett, the idea went ahead.

In the fall of 1972, the first Mah-Kato Powwow was held at Franklin Rogers Park in Mankato. An estimated 2,000 Dakota, along with other tribes, came from North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.

The concerns of some residents about noise at night turned out to be legit, but not for the reasons they feared.

"They [Dakota] were so happy to be here, they sang and danced all night," Lawrence laughed.

That powwow was originally conceived as a onetime event, and no powwow was held in 1973. But the success among the Dakota was too strong to abandon. The Mankato Chamber of Commerce and the women's service club Zonta and Bassett all joined forces to set up a powwow at Sibley Park in 1974, and the annual event took place there until 1980, when the city offered the Dakota a special section of a new park, which the Dakota named Land of Memories. The event continues there each year is one of the only known powwows not held on a reservation.

And over the years, its influence has extended the boundaries of the park and into the city through events such as the annual Dec. 26 ceremony and relay run (the hangings occurred Dec. 26); the establishment of Reconciliation Park on Riverfront Drive; the erection of two statues by sculptor Tom Miller (Winter Warrior and the Buffalo statue); and the Mankato school district's education program at the powwow. Gov. Rudy Perpich declared 1987 the 125th anniversary of the Dakota War as "The Year of Reconciliation."

In 1990, Owen, who had become spiritual leader to the area's Dakota, died at age 73. Lawrence served as pallbearer at his friend's funeral.

Now 71, Lawrence looks back on how that friendship over fishing in 1958 launched an accomplishment that has touched thousands and mended old antagonisms.

"My motivation was on bringing a culture back here that had been missing all these years," Lawrence said. As for Owen's motivation, Lawrence brings his hands together, interlocking his fingers.

"Amos was always: 'Bridge the gap, and bring people together in peace.'"

Multiply his experience by a generation, and the spoken language of the Dakota diminishes. But today, he teaches the language to a small group of Dakota men who gather for lessons in Shakopee. They come from Nebraska, Granite Falls, Morton, and Sisseton, S.D. Among the students is Leonard Wabasha, future hereditary chief of the Mdewakanton.

"When I started this program, there were 30 fluent speakers," he said. "That was a year ago. Today it's 26."

Learning the language was important enough to Wabasha that he quit his 20-year job at Honeywell to be part of the small program. The language in its purest form is a religious language, he said, and to master it is to partake closer in Dakota spirituality.

"I want to pray," Wabasha said. "I want to have more than a family picture and pieces of paper to leave my daughter," he said. "Basically, I want to be me."

Bud Lawrence and Amos Owen met in 1958 when Lawrence was fishing near Owen's home at Prairie Island. Lawrence, a Kasson native, had moved to Mankato a few years earlier and worked for Rochester Dairy. Owen was a cement mason.

Their friendship over the years was marked by family outings and occasional talks of Indian history, something that had always interested Lawrence. (That interest may have come, he said, because he was often assumed to be Indian with his dark hair and skin. He's Norwegian.)


Powwow links man to past


Leonard Wabasha says annual Wacipi part of his own cultural rediscovery.

By Tim Krohn - Mankato Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO - Leonard Wabasha had an abundance of tradition and history surrounding him as he grew up, but the richness and importance of it didn't settle in early on.

His father, hereditary chief Ernest Wabasha, and his mother, Vernell, told him the history of his famous ancestor, Chief Wabasha, who opposed the conflict with the U.S. soldiers but who nonetheless fought alongside his Dakota people.

Wabasha, 40, was exposed to the Dakota language and traditions by his parents, who now live at the Lower Sioux Agency near Morton. He knew well the history of the hanging of 38 Dakota Indians in Mankato in 1862 and the abuses suffered by the Indians afterward.

But as he lived in the Twin Cities, working at Honeywell, the meaning of the past remained elusive.

"It's really hard to be an urban Indian and learn your culture," he said.

But in the early 1990s, as he read a newspaper account of how the bodies of the 38 executed Indians were stolen from their graves and used for medical experiments, the immensity of his people's history and his place in it hit him full on.

"I just started crying. It's the only time I've cried. I didn't know why. My parents said, 'It's because you've become involved and are learning now,'" Wabasha recalls.

This week, Wabasha helps preside over the 28th annual "Mahkato Traditional Wacipi," or powwow, held at Land of Memories park Friday through Sunday.

The Wacipi began in 1972, through Dakota spiritual leader Amos Owen and Mankatoans Bud Lawrence and Jim Buckley. Lawrence continues to be closely involved in organizing the event.

Some 3,000 people are expected at what is believed to be the biggest off-reservation powwow in the country. It features traditional costumes and dancing and other events.

One of the highlights at this year's Wacipi will be the participation of many Dakota living in Canada. There are 12 known Dakota tribes in the United States and Canada, all have been invited to this year's powwow.

"I wanted more of our Canadian relatives to come. They are part of the 'Lost Dakota' tribes that fled after the war. It's lucky they were, quote, 'lost' because they preserved a lot of our culture," Wabasha said.

"Many of the Canadians didn't know of the powwow and they were looking for their roots and they believe their roots are in this area. So it's exciting to have them here."

Indeed the site of the Wacipi, at the confluence of the Minnesota and Blue Earth rivers, is where the Dakota people met at the end of each summer. "It's a very spiritual place."

Wabasha said the annual powwow and more accurate portrayals of the 1862 conflict have greatly improved relations between Indians and non-Indians.

"For years we didn't ever come to Mankato because of what happened [in 1862]. Indians drove through Mankato at night. It's the difference between the oral history we have and written history. Written history is put on the shelf and forgotten. Oral history stays alive and current," Wabasha said.

"The first year I came to the powwow I was apprehensive. I thought, there are all these white guys and we're here being 'the Indians' - but people were very friendly, and I didn't detect any racism."

Although relations are greatly improved, there are still things that Wabasha wishes others would take more time to understand about the Indian culture. Even simple things, such as not reaching out and touching an Indian's hair.

"Long hair is very important to Indians, and we don't appreciate it being touched. How we braid it shows respect to our mothers," Wabasha said.

Wabasha admits he continues to learn more about his own history. The more he learns of Chief Wabasha the more he admires him.

"He lost favor with his people because he refused to lead people in war, but he regained their favor."

That renewed respect came when soldiers were marching Indians from Mankato to an internment camp near Fort Snelling after the conflict. Someone in a mob near Henderson grabbed and killed an Indian baby as they marched past. "Chief Wabasha told the soldiers they were going to stop and bury the baby properly. His people respected him standing up to the soldiers. He stayed with his people during and after the conflict."

News & Archives: News
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