Most Winona area residents are aware that the meaning of the Dakota word "Winona" is first-born daughter, but for many, that is where the knowledge of the Dakota language ends. Currently there are only eight Minnesota residents whose first language is Dakota. Following the Dakota Conflict of 1862, many Dakota children were removed from their homes and sent to boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their native language, wear their native clothing, or learn about Dakota culture.
The Great Dakota Gathering will again feature traditional dancing at the Grand Entry this year.
In recent years, the Dakota people have made an effort to pass on the Dakota language to their youth, hoping to revitalize the vanishing language. This year’s 10th annual Great Dakota Gathering will celebrate not only Dakota language, but Dakota culture, giving area residents the ability to learn more about the first settlers of Minnesota.
On Friday, September 13, Winona area third graders will enjoy an education day at Unity Park, part of the three-day Gathering focused on bringing together people of all cultural backgrounds to interact and share in education and understanding.
Friday’s main event will give third graders of Winona’s public and private schools an opportunity to visit seven different tipis that represent the seven different council members. At each tipi there are four stations. “The students are divided up, they go from station to station and they learn about Dakota culture,” said Joan McNeil, an organizer of the Great Dakota Gathering.
The 28 different stations at the tipis will have presentations with different arts, as well as historical and cultural perspectives, added Bunny Welle, another organizer of the Great Dakota Gathering. On Saturday the public will be able to view the learning tent and partake in the education as the third graders were able to Friday.
Young people are the focus of this year’s gathering; “they are the future for understanding and positive relationships with the Dakota people,” McNeil added. It is the hope of the Gathering’s organizers that the many events scheduled this year will help area youth learn more about the Dakota culture.
Language bingo is returning to the Gathering this year. The idea for bingo was developed because that there are only five Dakota people who were born in Minnesota, whose first language is Dakota. “It’s a fun event to encourage people to hear Minnesota’s first language, and we are honored to have two callers who speak Dakota; one is a first language speaker, Anna Littleghost,” Welle explained.
The celebration falls on Ernest Wabasha day this year, a hereditary chief of the Mdewakantonwans Dakota, who had been involved with the Great Dakota Gathering from the beginning. Wabasha passed away March 28, 2013.
There are three Grand Entry events this year, two on Saturday starting at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. and one on Sunday at 1 p.m. The Grand Entry events include Dakota members participating in traditional tribal dances in traditional Dakota clothing.
Another popular event at the Gathering has enabled attendees to learn about the history of the Dakota people and to share feelings over the years. The talk circle is a returning event that allows for an open and honest discussion among those attending the Gathering. “The talk circle is moderated discussion of history and cultural from the Dakota perspective and our perspective,” said Bill McNeil, organizer of the Great Dakota Gathering. Everyone is allowed to talk; a feather is passed around the circle, giving everyone the ability to share their thoughts and opinions. “It’s really a chance to have reconciliation and the truth of American Indian history,” Bill McNeil added.
There will be two breakfasts offered Saturday and Sunday as well as two Unity feasts. Guests who purchase a button onsite may attend these meals at no extra charge. Adults may buy buttons for $8.00, the cost for children 10 and under is $4.00.
Events will begin at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. There is no entrance fee to enter Unity Park for the Great Dakota Gathering. For more information and a complete schedule visit www.winonadakotaunityalliance.org.