This week, Dakota people in Minnesota celebrate a Land Back victory, the Lake Superior Nibi Walk wraps up, the school nurse for the Red Lake Nation School District receives an award for immunization efforts, and native nations all over mourn the passing of Ada Deer. MN Native News reporter Emma Needham has this week’s headlines.
The Dakota Community in Minnesota is celebrating an unprecedented Land Back victory. This week, the Minnesota legislature approved the land transfer of Upper Sioux Agency State Park to the Upper Sioux Tribal Community. Most of the Upper Sioux Community’s roughly 550 members reside just outside the park’s borders, near Granite Falls.
Until recently, members of the Upper Sioux Tribe had to pay a fee to visit the graves of their ancestors. However, there is an even deeper and more sorrowful connection. Not only does the park protect the tribal burial grounds of the Dakota people, but it also includes the remnants of a federal complex where officers intentionally withheld supplies, causing starvation and deaths. Upper Sioux Tribal Chairman Kevin Jensvold worked for nearly 18 years, petitioning the state of Minnesota to return the more than two square miles of the park to his tribe.
The Department of Natural Resources says this is the first time that the State of Minnesota has transferred a state park to a Native community. While the transfer is officially approved, the whole package is expected to take years to finish, as part of many other large bills covering several issues. The funding among those bills allocates nearly $6 million to complete the transfer by 2033. The funding could be used to survey the land, repair roads and bridges, or buy land for recreational activities.
The Upper Sioux Agency Park is a state park, and no national parks have ever been transferred from the U.S. government to a tribal nation. However, according to the National Parks Service, some are co-managed by tribes and the federal government, including Grand Portage National Monument in northern Minnesota, Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona, and Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.
And, This year’s Lake Superior Nibi or Water Walk wrapped on September 3rd. The walk spans 1,129 miles around the shores of Gitchigami – Lake Superior – They started on August 1st near the Bad River Tribe in Cedar, Wisconsin, going clockwise into Minnesota, Ontario, Michigan and back to Wisconsin. The annual walk takes 34 days to complete. The first Mother Earth Water Walk began 20 years ago and was started by Josephine – ba Mandamin. The walk is now led by Minnesota Native and Bois Forte member Sharon Day, who is also the executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force.
The walk honors water, and prayers are said for water during every single step. Individuals and groups from Minnesota joined portions of the trek in support. According to the Nibi Walks Instagram feed, the Lake Superior Nibi Walk for 2023 included more than 2.5 million (2,510,631) prayers for the water. The Lake Superior Water Walk is one of many spiritual walks for the water and Mother Earth. More information about the Lake Superior Walk and other walks at nibiwalk.org.
In health news, the 2023 Minnesota Immunization Champion award belongs to Red Lake Nation member and longtime nurse, Charmaine Branchaud.
She was recognized for increasing the overall immunization rate at the Red Lake School District from 84 percent to 94 percent. Branchaud has worked in nursing for 46 years and became a school nurse at Red Lake Nation School District in 2021. In an interview on our program Community Health Conversations, she says that, along with her colleagues… she fixed inconsistencies in immunization records, educated families and held a vaccine clinic:
“We started at Red Lake Elementary School, we did an immunization clinic there… we went over there with a list, I believe, of 51 students, and we did 38 that day from one to three. We were just zooming through kids.”
You can hear the full interview with Charmaine on our website MinnesotaNativeNews.org
In national news, Menomonee nation leader and political advocate Ada Deer has entered the spirit world after 88 years on Turtle Island. Deer was a prominent political leader, fighting for sovereignty since the 1960’s. She was the first female chairperson of the Menomonee nation and the first Native woman to run for political office in Wisconsin. She was not only an avid critic of federal policy but an active part in it, serving as the first woman appointed as Assistant Secretary of the Interior and leader of the department of Indian Affairs.
Emma Needham reporting for Minnesota Native News.
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