by ALEXANDRA RETTER
When a man with mobility difficulties wanted to get closer to the dances at the Winona Dakota Unity Alliance's annual gathering, Interim President Angela Boozhoo and another volunteer got a golf cart to help him move up front. “Just the look on his face, the expression of gratitude he had for that nice gesture, he was saying he was going to be telling everybody about this event and how magnificently everyone treated him and his wife,” she said.
The organization is now searching for new board members to continue its mission of connecting the Dakota and the city of Winona through the gathering and other programming. At the gathering, there are musical and dance performances, in addition to a community meal, circle for discussing difficult topics and opportunities to learn from Native educators. The organization also strives to collaborate with the city on preserving the area’s natural environment, as well as burial grounds and archaeological sites.
Without new board members, the organization could be at risk of not continuing, said Brian Mueller, who was a board member until recently. “And I think that’d be profoundly, profoundly sad … We don’t want to see this end. We don’t want to see it fall apart,” he said.
“We really need board members, because we can’t function as a four-member board,” Boozhoo said.
It’s been very difficult for the board to function with four people, Boozhoo said. “It’s a lot for people to take on, just because we’re such a small group … So if we have more members, we’ll be able to spread out the work that needs to be done,” she said.
In the absence of more board members, it has also been hard to hold the gathering, Boozhoo said. There is not a designated person at the moment to communicate with volunteers, for example, she said.
The organization does not have a gathering scheduled for 2022, though the group did want to hold one, Boozhoo said. “But there’s just not enough people right now,” she said. Boozhoo added that she hopes for the organization to hold one next year.
The board’s main goal is to act as a bridge between the Dakota and the city of Winona, Mueller said. The main way the board accomplishes that goal is organizing and hosting an annual gathering, he said. “The gathering is about inviting the Dakota back to their home,” he said. The gathering, which typically takes place over four days in September, includes opportunities for local students to learn from Native educators. It also features performances by musicians and dancers and spiritual ceremonies.
“The gathering is the biggest event that we help the community have,” Boozhoo said.
“One of the best things is the opportunity to really make a personal connection with the people whose home this really is,” Mueller said. “The city of Winona is built on stolen land, and I think that is really vitally important for us to understand.”
One personal connection Mueller made was learning the Dakota language from two native speakers. While learning the language, he also learned about its importance to the Dakota and the people’s efforts to keep the language alive.
As a musician, Mueller also appreciated listening to performers who sang and drummed. “The music was always just amazing … and understanding the songs have deep meaning, and are sung for specific reasons.”
Boozhoo fondly recalls hosting a circle in which some discussed their experiences in the area. “It was just a really unique moment of time where I felt so connected to the people that were there,” she said. “And people shared very deep feelings about the Winona community.”
Those interested in serving on the board may reach out to email@example.com.
“It’s always good to have new voices and new perspective” Mueller said. “Everyone brings their own gifts and abilities to the table.”