From: Beth Maki
Last weekend I attended the 15th annual Great Dakota Gathering hosted by the Winona Dakota Unity Alliance (WDUA). As usual, it was a moving experience. As I drive around this beautiful town, I frequently try to imagine what it was like when the Dakota lived here before we settlers arrived. To have such a welcoming for them each year is a unique event.
The Dakota travel up to nine hours to celebrate with us. It takes considerable time and money to return to their homeland. It requires considerable time and money to put on this event, too. Every January, the WDUA starts the grant-writing process to try and raise money for the gathering. The board consists of literally a handful of people. This event is put on solely through the use of this grant money and through private donations. In recent years, grant money, donations, and WDUA membership has dwindled. The city of Winona provides insurance for the event, sand bags, roadblocks, garbage/recycling containers, and water hook up. And of course Unity Park itself, dedicated to the Dakota People and the WDUA. The city provides no funds to host the event.
In 2012 Mayor Jerry Miller signed the Covenant of Friendship, declaring allyship with Dakota people. This, too, is unique to Winona. We as citizens need this document to be worth more than a gesture, good publicity, or the paper it’s written on. We need to adhere to its promises. We need to be true to our word as good people and allies living on Dakota land.
Do you have grant-writing skills? Some time to serve on the board throughout the year? Fundraising experience? Do you own a business that could help out with food or supplies? Maybe print some T-shirts? A little money to donate each month to defray costs? Please consider helping the WDUA to continue to host the Gathering.
Dakota Elder and long-time emcee for the Gathering Danny Seaboy said on Saturday, “We need to stand as one.” As we round danced in Unity Park, holding hands in a large circle, I felt that connection to the Dakota and my fellow citizens of Winona more than at any other time of year. We cannot allow this beautiful tradition, or our commitment, to fade.
I would like to personally thank Aaron Camacho, 2016 and 2017 president of the WDUA. Her tireless work for the organization, her work with Winona State University, and the Winona Human Rights Commission during this time cannot be overstated. Her enthusiasm and energy for bringing awareness to Indigenous (a.k.a. human) issues buoyed us all through marches, rallies, meetings, and fundraisers.
I hope that this letter will help to bring awareness to the very loving tradition of the gathering, and how each and every person in town can help to keep it alive for years to come.