Young dancers participated in the 2007 Great Dakota Gathering. This weekend’s celebration marks the gathering’s 15th anniversary.
Photo by Cynthya Porter.
by NATHANIEL NELSON
The Great Dakota Gathering returns to Unity Park this weekend for its 15th consecutive year, bringing hundreds of attendees from Winona, the Midwest and beyond to come together to celebrate the culture of their forebearers.
“It’s an opportunity to share and learn about the indigenous culture of the Dakota and others that called Winona home before the settlers came,” explained Robert Pack, president of the Winona-Dakota Unity Alliance (WDUA).
The event starts on Friday for local third graders, Pack said, before kicking off for the public at 6 a.m. on Saturday with the first of two Sunrise Ceremonies. While some things have stayed the same every year, this year, the gathering has been changed to a predominantly one-day event.
“We tried something new this year to bring everything into one day so there’s always something going on. Before, there might have been two hours of downtime. But if you’re a visitor, we want stuff going on so no matter when you arrive or how long you stay, there’s something to enjoy and learn from,” Pack explained.
There will be activities and experiences all day on Saturday, running from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. Some are the same as last year, like storytelling by the sacred fire, but there are some new activities as well, Pack said. The largest one is a group paddle in partnership with the Winona Climate Action Committee.
“It might be different, if people have come to the event in the past. You might see some changes, but we hope that they’re good changes,” Pack said.
The theme for this year’s gathering is “Protecting the Life Givers,” which Pack said includs the planet, Mother Earth, as well as actual mothers. “The reason behind that is indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing at a higher rate than any other group. It’s been going on in Canada for a long time, and is an increasing epidemic in the United States as well. We want to shed light on that issue,” Pack explained.
Speakers on the topic will be in attendance on Saturday, with educational opportunities at both the night’s storytelling event and at an education tent earlier in the day, where other educators will join in teaching about the significance of the drum, mocassion, sweetgrass, and other things meaningful to indigenous cultures.
“We also have representatives from the Effigy Mounds National Monument near Marquette. They’ve been there for hundreds, maybe thousands of years or more,” Pack added. “They will be coming up to share what it is and how it is connected to the culture.”
WDUA has been putting on the event in conjunction with the city of Winona since 2004, when it began as part of the Grand Excursion. Over the years, the event has grown and changed to meet the demands of attendees. Last year, the gathering had almost 1,500 people over the weekend, Pack explained, with people coming from across the continent to celebrate their heritage, and he hopes for more this year.
“We’ve had the Dakota, as well as representative from the Ho Chunk nation, Ojibwe and Chippewa from the Northern part of Minnesota, and we’ve even had visitors from the Dakotas from Canada,” Pack said. “We hope to continue that and make sure that Winona and the event is welcoming for all those who attend.”
The 15th annual Great Dakota Gathering will run from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, September 8, and from 6:30 a.m. until noon on Sunday, September 9, at Unity Park on East Lake Winona. For a complete list of events, visit the Winona-Dakota Unity Alliance’s Facebook at www.facebook.com/winonadakotaunityalliance.