Guest blog by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community
November is a month of deep significance for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) and Indian Country as a whole. Throughout the month, Indigenous peoples are celebrated across the nation during Native American Heritage Month and on Native American Heritage Day. For our tribe, the month of November is a time for us to share our culture, history and lived experience with the wider neighboring community, and to mark the anniversary of our federal recognition as a tribe.
Native American Heritage Month and Day
Since 1990, the month of November has been recognized as Native American Heritage Month — a time dedicated to paying tribute to the diverse cultures, traditions and histories of Native American peoples. What began as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions Natives have made to the establishment and growth of the United States expanded to an entire month. And each November since 2008, the U.S. has observed the day after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day, closing out the celebration of Native American Heritage Month.
For our tribe, Native American Heritage Month has a second significance. Our Mdewakanton ancestors lived in the lands of Minnesota for centuries prior to the coming of Europeans. But it was not until November 28, 1969, when the U.S. government finally conferred official recognition on our tribe. In the intervening 52 years, we have made remarkable and sustained progress — from establishing housing and developing infrastructure to preserving our Dakota heritage and attaining economic self-sufficiency. Through the resiliency and hard work of the SMSC’s ancestors, we are able to mark this occasion with pride and use it to teach our children the fundamental importance of sovereignty and self-sufficiency for their futures.
Accordingly, we use this month to host “CommUNITY Day,” welcoming neighbors and friends to our cultural center. During this educational open house, guests are invited to learn more about the SMSC and Native American culture and history, and explore the building — including its public exhibit, “Mdewakanton: Dwellers of the Spirit Lake.” The day features topics and issues important to Indian Country, such as Native American arts and crafts, culture and language, local history, Indigenous foods, federal policy impact, gaming history, and more.
Native Visibility and Narrative Change
Outside of Native American Heritage Month, we continue the work to enhance the public’s understanding of Indigenous cultures and history — including raising awareness about the unique challenges that Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to overcome these challenges.
Two years ago, our tribe launched Understand Native Minnesota, a strategic initiative and philanthropic campaign to improve the Native American narrative in Minnesota schools. The campaign aims to improve public attitudes toward Native Americans by incorporating greater awareness of Native Americans, along with accurate information about their history, culture and modern tribal governments, into Minnesota’s K-12 education system.
This year, the SMSC became the first tribal government to have an exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair, bringing important representation to this popular event. Thousands of Minnesotans stopped by the first-of-its-kind exhibit to learn about the SMSC and the 10 other tribal nations in Minnesota.
These programs help non-Natives better understand important facts about tribal communities and raise the visibility of Native Americans in society. Our governments are sovereign. Our history is complex and marked with tragedy. Our people are resilient. And our communities are modern and vital.
We use this time of year to reflect on our heritage for the sake of our own people and the understanding of others. But we also use it to celebrate the ways we are forging a dynamic future with our friends and neighbors. For us at the SMSC, the American Heart Association has been a wonderful collaborator in our philanthropic efforts to improve the health of Natives through Indian Country. We say pidamayaye (“thank you”) to our AHA friends during this Native American Heritage Month.
About the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is a federally recognized, sovereign Dakota tribal government located southwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Following a Dakota tradition of generosity, the SMSC is one of the top philanthropists in Minnesota and is the largest contributor to other tribal governments and causes across the country. It is a strong community partner and a leader in protecting and restoring natural resources. The SMSC’s government, Gaming Enterprise and various other enterprises are collectively the largest employer in Scott County and attract millions of visitors to the region.