Love is all you need - place, sorrow and love by Leslie Sobel
Updated: Aug 14, 2020
Beading and traditional craft were an entry point to connecting culture, trauma and healing in Minneapolis.
Quite a few months ago I spent a lot of hours doing traditional Dakotah beading and looking at traditional beaded artifacts in the archives of the Minneapolis Science Museum with Ramona Kitto Stately and Ethan Neerdaels - two Dakotah language and culture experts. Here Ramona talks about the tradition of beading and her practice making moccasins in particular. I have made beaded objects before - summer camp as a kid and making jewelry with my kids, this was a first foray into traditional beading and learning more about the symbolism of colors, patterns and objects. We made a variant on a traditional pipe bag - something that is normally a sacred object to hold an even more sacred object. Ramona taught us a great deal about the process and the traditional materials as well as modern versions.
Beading well is challenging in terms of skill and design let alone vision and materials. And it’s an old craft that is a cultural signifier for Dakotah and Ojibwe peoples. And as Ramona said in video linked above - these are pieces made with love and an incredible amount of labor so for her never sold but only gifted.
When we visited the museum we saw a number of videos of skilled crafts people working today with indigenous craft. A flute-maker talked about the traditional obligation to teach a skill - keeping these shared traditions alive and vibrant as part of tribal culture. I love the idea that mastering a traditional skill includes the obligation to teach it to others.
Dakotah people are working hard to keep their society vibrant and healthy, healing from a long history of genocide and abuse by colonizers. Reviving cultural traditions and language is an important part of this healing. And as a white person it is important to me to be aware of the history that doesn’t get shared as mainstream. Names are a key example. We have named many places with bastardizations of traditional indigenous names or names of white people who were involved in a lot of evil behavior. White people who are pushing back against returning to traditional names are missing the point about whose history has been erased and should be restored. Names are cultural ownership of the land and we disappear people and their history by not using their names for their places.
Ethan Neerdaels talks more about this issue here "Living in Minnesota in 2014 there are many reminders that Minnesota is Dakota land. From the hundreds of place names with mispronounced Dakota words to the historical markers at Treaty Signing Sites marking the illegal land theft that has yet to be reconciled.” Seeing a sign at Pilot Knob Hill in Dakotah first and then English is a good indicator of some progress.
We went on the B’dote walk with Ethan and Ramona - a tour of remembrance and sorrow as we visited many sacred sites which white people have desecrated - burial mounds looted and bulldozed, a birthing cave with a spring- mined for building materials, the b’dote itself - the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers - a place of deep significance to Dakota people which was intentionally defiled by placing a concentration camp above at Fort Snelling during the Dakotah war of 1962.
This was a wrenching day and brought up a great deal of discussion about genocide, cultural inheritance and guilt over privilege. It was not her job to offer us comfort but Ramona’s compassion for our horror clearly demonstrated her kindness and wisdom while she made the point that it is manifestly absurd for people in a place of privilege to expect comfort or absolution from those who are not.
The B’dote. The island in the background - traditionally Wita Tanka now named Pike’s Island is a good example of the cognitive dissonance of naming things - Pike negotiated the treaty for the land which was never honored and the island was the site of the concentration camp where 1600 Dakotah women, children and old men were help over winter in 1862.
Wita Tanka was a sacred site where women went to give birth. It was intentionally desecrated by turning it into a concentration camp.
There is group called the Healing Place Collaborative working in Minneapolis to address the kind of trauma that indigenous people and places have suffered in the region. This discussion shows the efforts being made through cultural revitalization and learning to heal from the kind of collective trauma that tribal people in the region have experienced. Some excerpts:
Jewell Arcoren “Dakota language is a key or pathway for me and for my community to begin to recover from historical trauma. It is a key connector. In my opinion, the Dakota language is a keystone species [a species on which others in an ecosystem depend]. This land, and the people here, need our Dakota language to recover so that we can all heal. We need our songs to be alive: our planting songs, our coming of age songs, our end of life songs, our ceremony songs.”
Ethan Neerdaels “I came to be involved with Healing Place through the work we do in bringing our stories of place back to the Oyáte through our language.…
The work I do is about re-strengthening of Dakota way of life, Dakota language, and relating to Dakota Makoce. It’s about giving people back the language they have, and about the continual raping of our grandmother earth.”
Artist and Water Bar co-founder Shanai Matteson “I’m concerned with how we move from ownership to relationship. I think about this as someone who is a storyteller; it’s an interior question, how we individually move from colonialist to relational frameworks. “
More about the memory map they have built around the B’dote walk can be found here
For indigenous Americans connections to place are deeply important and are linked to a very long history and spiritual ties to the land. Most tribal peoples in this country have been displaced both physically and culturally. This is fundamentally a form of attempted genocide. Seeing people reclaim their lands as much as they can and reclaim their heritage even more so is important. Reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s seminal book Braiding Sweetgrass I come away ever more convinced of the criticality of adopting an indigenous practice towards land - of gratitude and reciprocity if we are to save the planet. Kimmerer is both a botanist and a member of the Potawatomi tribe. She argues that to restore the land we need to love the land and feel deeply connected to it. A deep connection to place may save us all - from pollution, climate change and a general disconnect from where we live.