In June 2019, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community held its grand opening for Hoċokata Ti, a cultural center looking to educate the public on Mdewakanton Dakota culture and stand as a gathering place for members to learn, celebrate and preserve their heritage.

Over two years later, the cultural center has aimed to further establish itself as a welcoming place for SMSC members and the general public.

Director of Hoċokata Ti Andy Vig said the center can teach people who may not be informed about the SMSC and its respective culture.

“There’s a lot of history here, and sometimes people maybe aren’t aware of it,” Vig said. “But if they take the time to come down and visit, hopefully they’ll learn a few things.”

Educating the Public

The ground level of Hoċokata Ti is a space open to the general public.

This section of the building includes a gift shop selling various items of Native American art, books and beaded materials. A library is also on this floor and is open for people to sit and read up on a number of topics drawing back to history, heritage and culture.

Vig said providing access to knowledge and educating the public is an important part of Hoċokata Ti.

“I think what you’ll see more is that if you come to this building, you have a better understanding … future generations will have a better understanding of who we are,” Vig said.

The cultural center’s public exhibit highlights the opportunity for understanding.

“Mdewakanton: Dwellers of the Spirit Lake” is Hoċokata Ti’s 3,805-square-foot exhibit that takes visitors through a comprehensive, interactive experience displaying Mdewakanton Dakota history and culture.

Throughout the exhibit, guests can take a closer look at artifacts like clothing, dolls, beaded materials, tools and arrowheads. Artifacts on display come from the SMSC archival collection, as well as items loaned from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

One of the standout sections of the exhibit is at the very beginning. A short video entitled “The Creation Story” plays along the walls and ceiling of a small room designed to resemble the inside of a tipi. This video takes visitors through stories describing the creation of the Dakota people.

Having the SMSC present all this information versus any other museum is something Vig said is quite meaningful to those in the community.

“It’s telling the story from the people who those artifacts belong to. You can tell it in a more personal way,” Vig said.

Gathering Place

Hoċokata Ti’s impact goes well beyond the general public, benefiting the SMSC members in a variety of ways daily.

The lower floor of the cultural center is not open to the public and is dedicated to serving the Mdewakanton Sioux community.

This space includes a large gathering area used for council meetings and other important events. It also has a kitchen used when preparing food for events and for teaching members pre-contact cuisine and other culturally significant dishes. A theater is also located in the center and used for screenings, hosting press conferences and even recording audio for podcasts.

The lower section dedicates a number of rooms to educating SMSC members. Members can make pottery and create other art pieces, and tipis are used as places to teach language and host youth group sessions.

Vig said Hoċokata Ti’s resources and opportunities for members are making the community stronger.

“As far as the impact for our community, I think it strengthened our cultural identity and cultural understanding … I think by having a place to be together to learn from each other, it’s just been more strengthening,” Vig said.

The lower floor of the center is also home to the collections space.

Over 10,000 artifacts are currently held here, with some items dating as far back as 10,000 years. The space is temperature-controlled, and items are treated and cared for to protect their integrity and quality.

Trails and gardens are also located behind the center and are not open to the public. Culturally significant plants are found in this outdoor region, and the SMSC sometimes hosts events for its members on the land.

Moving Forward

While Hoċokata Ti has been open since 2019, much of its time has been heavily compromised by the pandemic.

In March 2020, the cultural center had to temporarily close its doors. The center was severely impacted, not able to reopen for in-person events and gatherings until fall 2020.

Vig said it was unfortunate to be closed so soon after opening, and the center struggled to bring people in once things reopened.

But he added that in recent weeks, the center has picked up in visitors and awareness.

One reason for this is recent engagement with the SMSC’s state fair exhibit. This exhibit was the first from a tribal government to be displayed at the Minnesota State Fair, according to a SMSC news release.

Vig said many people appreciated the exhibit and have looked into visiting the center because of interactions at the fair. The state fair exhibit is currently on display at Hoċokata Ti until Nov. 13.

Another element increasing engagement is with schools visiting on field trips. Classes from the area and homeschooled students from around the Midwest often set up field trips for kids to learn about Mdewakanton Dakota history. The center also provides optional, additional activities like language lessons, craft-making and food lessons.

According to Vig, teaching people about SMSC culture and history at a young age is incredibly important.

“I always say that there’s children being born every day, and they haven’t heard our story,” Vig said. “I think it’s very important … getting in front of them at a young age and helping break down some of the misinformation about Native Americans.”

While the center isn’t yet running at full capacity, it is open to the public and encourages people to visit.

Vig said with things opening up again, he is excited to see how Hoċokata Ti will continue to impact everyone going forward.

“I hope it continues to grow in a way that our people use it more and more. I hope that it helps educate not only our own tribal members and our kids, but also the general public on who we are and where we came from,” Vig said. “Hopefully, this building will help us always remember that.”