Dakota elder weighs in on debate over Hiawatha Golf

Respect relatives, respect Bde Psin


“I am for clean and pure water.
“I am for the fish relatives which will be harmfully affected by phosphorus and waste waters that will be deposited in the lake.
“I am a pro animal rights person and thus I am for healthy habitat in which they live and for this habitat which would be put at risk.
“If it comes to a choice between a golf course and fun and games, versus a clean and healthy environment for the animals, birds and fish, then I, as an 82-winters-old Dakota guy chose to preserve a clean lake for the fish people and a healthy environment for the survival of our animals and birds, our relatives,” said Dr. Chris Mato Nunpa during the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB) meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022.
A retired associate professor of Indigenous Nations and Dakota Studies at Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall, Minn, Dr. Mato Nunpa holds a Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of Minnesota with the collateral field for the Ph.D. in American Indian studies. He also studied theology at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill.
A Wahpetunwan Dakota from Pezihuta Zizi Otunwe (Upper Sioux Community in southwestern Minnesota), Mato Nunpa grew up in a bilingual and bi-literate household near Granite Falls, Minn. His father and his mother both spoke and read English and Dakota. Mato Nunpa’s niece, Nicole Cavender, lives in Ericcson, near Lake Hiawatha.
He is among multiple Dakota people who spoke at various MPRB meetings in August to support what they are calling “The Equity Plan,” the proposed master plan for Hiawatha Golf Course that would shift it to a nine-hole course and provide space to manage water. Among them were Dr. Antony Stately, AIM chairman Mike Forcia, Migisi Spears, Marissa Anywaush, and Dr. Gia Rivera.
At the Aug. 17 public hearing, Nicole Cavender read a statement from her grandmother. She acknowledged both the legacy of the Black golfers and the Indigenous history at Lake Hiawatha, and concluded: “Both sides would like all. All wealth or all environmental restoration. The master plan is the compromise. Vote for it.”

Take care of relatives
Dr. Mato Nunpa pointed out that Mini Sota Makoce is the Dakota name for their homelands. The Dakota language is found in many names in Minnesota, beginning with the state name. The word “mi-ni” in Dakota means water. He translates the state name as “Land Where the Waters Reflect the Skies.” A fellow Wahpeton Dakota, Dr. Charles Eastman, translated this phrase as “Land of Sky-Blue Waters.”
The Dakota believe that they came from the stars and made their appearance at the spot where the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers converge. The area is to the Dakota what Eden is to the Jewish people, pointed out Mato Nunpa. It is sacred land, and this sacred land extends to Lake Hiawatha.
Known as Bde Psin in Dakota, Lake Hiawatha was formerly called “Rice Lake.” He said, “The golf course, which represents recreation, or ‘fun and games,’ is incongruous and also diminishes the sacredness of this ‘Wakan,’ or sacred area.”
Mato Nunpa is concerned about the phosphorus and trash being dumped into Bde Psin. “The White man and the golf course regard the earth and animals as insignificant and unimportant, and do not respect the earth, the animals, the birds, and the fish, etc. as the Dakota People do, who regard the earth as sacred,” he observed.
He pointed out that in traditional Dakota teachings, animals, birds, fish, and other entities in the living creations are regarded as relatives.
“We have a saying that many of our Dakota-Language speakers use when they address a Dakota gathering, ‘Mitakuye Owasin,’ ‘all my relatives.’ This phrase is used as a greeting in gatherings. More importantly, it is a phrase that is a teaching and a value – it embraces all of the living creation, the two-leggeds, the four-legged, the winged birds, the fish and whales, and other creatures which live in the oceans; the creeping, crawling, and slithering entities, etc. If they are our relatives, then, we need to treat them with respect, caring, and love, as we do with our family and relatives, and not to kill the animals, birds, and fish, just for sport. Our people often say, ‘To be Dakota is to be a good relative,’ whether it is to humans, or to animals, or to the bear, or to the eagle, and to the fish, etc.”
Dakota view fish, animals, birds and more as relatives, he stressed.
‘The main point of this talk of relatives is to educate the listener how important animals, birds, fish, etc, are to the traditional Dakota People. Animals, birds, and fish, of the land, of the sky, and of the waters (including Bde Psin, Rice Lake, or Lake Hiawatha) are peoples and are our relatives, and that we need to accord them respect, with the right to life, and the right to have a safe, clean environment in which to live. We, the First Minnesotans, the Dakota People, have concerns for the health, habitats, and safety of the animal relatives around Bde Psin because of what has happened, what is happening, and what will, probably, continue to happen, depending on the vote of the Minneapolis Park Board.”


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