GLENCOE, Minn. — As John Stoesz pedals his recumbent trike through southern Minnesota, he faces two realities — the dedication of today’s farmers to the land and the absence of Dakota people on their ancestral land.
He passes row after row of perfectly straight lines of corn, hugging each side of the road, slowly drying down for picking. More than 150 years ago, buffalo would have roamed here, drinking from the “sky-tinted water” – the meaning of Minnesota as named by the Dakota.
The richness of the black soil that will soon yield a harvest of corn and soybeans stands in contrast to the forceful evacuation of the Dakota people from the land in 1862.
As he bicycles 2,000 miles through former Dakota land, Stoesz, the former executive director of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Central States, is calling attention to the injustices perpetrated on the Dakota people and the subsequent advantages to white settlers and their descendants.
Stoesz planned his trip through 40 counties, doing interviews with newspapers and chatting with people along the way. “Many of us continue to benefit from the land that was settled by our European ancestors,” Stoesz wrote in emails to newspaper editors. “As we know, this land was taken from Dakota people, almost all of whom were killed or forcibly removed from the state.”
The forced exodus of the Dakota people and subsequent bounty paid for Dakota scalps took place during and after the U.S.-Dakota war of 1862. Just 12 years after the war, Stoesz’s great-grandfather, a Mennonite immigrant farmer from Ukraine, received land through the railroad. Stoesz’s grandfather later owned 320 acres, also former Dakota land, near his father.
Last year, Stoesz’s family decided to sell their grandfather’s farm, forcing him to decide what to do with profit of land taken from the Dakota.
Stoesz knew about the injustices through his work with MCC Central States’ Indigenous Vision Center, which aims to build relationships between Indigenous people and others, and among Indigenous people.
“Through the land, I think I have benefited from an oppressive system. It’s not that my ancestors were directly involved in the oppression in the worst violent ways, but they certainly benefited from it and I benefit from it,” he said.
Through the counsel of the Indigenous Vision Center, Stoesz connected with Oyate Nipi Kte (The People Shall Live), a Minnesota-based organization focusing on the recovery of Dakota traditional knowledge and culture. Stoesz decided to give half of his profit for Indigenous land justice, including a contribution toward the purchase of land for Oyate Nipi Kte.
“It has been extraordinarily important for me to see a beneficiary of Dakota land loss take this step because it helps restore my sense of hope in the possibility of justice for our people,” said Waziyatawin, founder of Oyate Nipi Kte. “We hope that others will be inspired to contribute to reparative justice projects.”
Tina Schrag is communications coordinator for MCC Central States; Linda Espenshade is news coordinator for MCC U.S.