One of the few criticisms of this weekend's Meandering River Walk outdoor theater was that the story of the Upper Sioux Community, as they have been so dubbed by the U.S. Government, bore only brief mention.
In truth, this was done out of respect of the local Dakota community members who in large part, according to director Ashley Hanson and playwright Andrew Gaylord, respectfully declined to be a greater focus of the production that consequently revolved around the European settlement of Granite Falls.
Given this, it was with a degree of both irony and serendipity, that the story of Dakota and Ojibwe tribes of Minnesota happened to also be on display at the travelling exhibition, "Why Treaties Matter," shown at the Prairie's Edge Casino Resort over the course of the past week.
"Minnesota history, it's almost like there's the history that is told of the state and its immigrants, and the tribes, Ojibwe and Dakota, are another piece over here and we're just fitted in occasionally in this other story," said Tom Ross.
Ross, who is a member of the local Dakota community, served as the lead of an eight member committee who developed the exhibit, made possible through a partnership between the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, the Minnesota Humanities Center, and the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
Displayed on a collection of large banners and told through touch-screen video of tribal members representing various communities throughout the state, the story presented is one of tragedy and revitalization in the context of treaties.
"It tries to tell the story of a people as best they can in the space they've got and at the same trying to educate people by defining what is the relationship between tribes, state and federal governments and what treaties enable tribes to do," Ross said.
The beauty of the exhibit, he continued, was the manner in which it was able to present the information in a non-threatening, easy to understand overview, free of the "....loud discussions that sometimes happen."
Ross touched upon a few major points of the exhibit that are often misunderstood, including ideas about the nature of reservations and treaties themselves.
"The basis of treaties is one that establishes the right of tribal communities to govern ourselves and do what other governments do," he said. "It's not about a special group of people receiving special treatment."
Ross noted that a common misunderstanding is that the federal government gave reservations to tribal bodies, when in fact the inverse is more accurate––as native Americans ceded the rights of sovereignty to the U.S. Government while "reserving" the right of tribal sovereignty within particular areas to themselves.
In addition, Ross noted how the treaty between two sovereign nations also retained for tribal communities the right to hunt and fish on those lands ceded to the U.S., much in the same way a land sale might include easements.
Page 2 of 2 - Last Wednesday local tribal elders Carolyn Schommer and Harry Running Walker were present for a discussion held in concert with the exhibit, where the two made themselves available to answer questions of the public. Much of the conversation revolved around the Dakota language, the usage of which was discouraged in their youth.
Today, Schommer and Running Walker are two of only four local tribal members, and "less than handful across the state" who speak the Dakota language fluently. That however is changing, in large part to the efforts of individuals like Schommer, who is presently teaching 15 native and non-native students the Dakota language through classes held at Yellow Medicine East.
Ross called the exhibit just a primer for the history and intricacies of treaty law in the United States. He said that those who were unable to see the exhibit or who want to find out more can do so by visiting a "terrific" associated website at: www.treatiesmatter.org.
There have been two copies of exhibit on display since August 2011, the next stops for the Why Treaties Matter exhibits is the Winona County Historical Society, where it will be viewable through Oct. 31, and the Eden Prairie School Distrcit, where it will show from Oct. 25-Nov. 12.
Editor's note: an earlier version of the article incorrectly stated the next stop of the "Why Treaties Matter" exhibit. The present info is correct.