Prior to his great grandfather’s procurement of a Mount Lake settlement in 1874, the family farm land passed down to John Stoesz and his kin had once served as the home of native Dakota people. And, now, he wants to give it back.
“Like most white Minnesotans that have ancestors who settled these parts, we still have this land that we’re benefitting from that we stole from the Dakota,” said Stoesz. “It seems reasonable to me that since white folk had everything to do with the forced removal of Dakota from Minnesota, white people who benefit from the land can do something to recover a land base in Minnesota.”
During the months of September and October Stoesz is undertaking a bike tour throughout southwest Minnesota to raise awareness and dollars for indigenous land recovery through the Dakota nonprofit organization, Oyate Nipi Kte (The People Shall Live)." On Wednesday, September 18 he arrived in Granite Falls after a previous stop in Montevideo. It his intention, weather permitting, he says, to carry the torch during stops at the county seats of 40 southern Minnesota counties.
Stoesz, who is of German heritage, was born and raised in Mount Lake but presently resides in Newton, Kansas. There, he has garnered a history of working on injustice issues as Executive Director of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Central States, a $5 million dollar a year relief, development and peace organization, from September of 2005 through June of this year.
It was through his connections to the MCC organization that Stoesz gained an awareness of Oyate Nipi Kte, whom he reached out in hopes of offering his support. The organization has connections to Granite Falls resident, author and Dakota activist Waziyatawin (Angela Cavender-Wilson) who has served as founder of the non-profit. She described the mission of the organization as such, "Oyate Nipi Kte is committed to restoring a land base for Dakota people through the Makoce Ikikcupi (Recovering Land) project so that we may begin to bring some of our relatives home, re-establish our spiritual and physical relationship with our homeland, and assure the ongoing existence of our people. Our cultural survival depends on it."
Stoesz said that he has been greeted by a number of different reactions since setting out with his message. At times he encountered people who wanted to ignore the conversation and in rare instances someone wanted to argue––but, usually, people expressed interest and were supportive.
“I’m not interested in arguing because I don’t think you’re changing people’s minds,” he said. “It’s the interested and supportive group that I think is significant.”
Stoesz has put his money where his mouth is, electing to sell his 13 acre stake in his grandfather’s farm and donating half of the proceeds (approximately $60,000 after taxes) to Oyate Nipi Kte and other indigenous non-profit organizations.
Page 2 of 2 - He said his two brothers and sisters were supportive of his choice, but that they would not necessarily be following in his footsteps. “I told them, you have kids. I don’t. I can take this step now ... Look after your own retirement and your children in a good way. After that, I hope you’ll consider supporting Dakota land recovery.
The response of his mother was also interesting, reflecting what Stoesz believes to be a shared sentiment that is changing. “I told my mom I wanted to do something in this area of land justice for Dakota people. Her immediate reaction was: they deserve it, but it’s not going to happen––which, I think is the mindset of a number of Minnesotans.
“But it is happening,” he continued. And there is a pool of money coming together for Dakota land reclamation.”
For more info on Oyate Nipi Kte go to: http://oyatenipikte.org