By Mitchell Cottew & Josie Gereszek
A new traveling exhibition looks to inform students of Native Nations in Minnesota and their history of treaty-making with the United States.
“Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations,” arranged by the Smithsonian Institute, the Indian Affairs Council, and the Minnesota Humanities Center, will be displayed throughout the MnSCU system over the next two years at more than 30 campuses.
The exhibit, created in 2010 to be used as an educational tool for Minnesota audiences, features 20 free-standing banners and a 10-minute video titled “A Day in the Life of the Minnesota Tribal Nations.” It is on display on the second floor of Livingston Lord Library.
“If you watch the video, three of the people have passed away, and a lot of that knowledge that they shared to develop the exhibit was oral tradition,” said Donna Brown, assistant vice president of student affairs. “Now we realize how priceless that is.”
The exhibit’s contents span from the first colonizations and treaties established to how these agreements affect us today. It tells a story of the history and continuing impact of treaties on the Dakota and Ojibwe in Minnesota and why these binds between nations still matter today.
“This is an important exhibit because it tells two key stories of the development of Minnesota and our nation and the lasting consequences of treaties which are not fully told in textbooks,” said Phyllis May-Machunda, coordinator of American multicultural studies. “This exhibit exemplifies American multicultural education in action.”
The display is meant to share important cultural information so attendees may better understand the circumstances surrounding Minnesota land, its use, and even the treatment of the state’s indigenous peoples today.
“We, as a nation, as well as Minnesotans, need to know and understand our roots in order to become all that we can be,”
Machunda said. “American Indian history is one of the major strands of American history. We, as a nation need to abandon prejudices about American Indian peoples, become informed, and acknowledge the legacies of our actions on all the people treaties have impacted.”
Only one lecture remains for students who want to take advantage of the exhibit before it concludes Oct. 10. Dakota language scholar Dr. Clifford Canku of Sisseton-Wahpeton, S.D. will be speaking at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Library Room 203 on the letters written by Native American prisoners of war.
“I think so many people think of treaties as a piece of history, this relic of the past,” Brown said. “But those treaties are still in place, so they’re very relevant.”
If students do miss the opportunity to see the exhibit, events will take place throughout November for Native American Heritage Month, sponsored and planned by the Native American Student Association.
“A better understanding of the complex histories we have not previously been taught as part of our institutionalized education programs will help us develop respect for differences in our midst,” Machunda said. “It helps us become informed and better citizens in the world.”