SMSC center from above

Hocokata Ti, the new Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community cultural center in Shakopee.

SHAKOPEE — The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s cultural center and public museum are now open after decades of work, community members said this week.

Hocokata Ti, pronounced ho-cho-kah-tah tee and the Dakota term for lodge at the center of the village or camp, includes members-only spaces for Mdewakanton government and community events and a main-floor exhibit on the tribe’s history that’s open to the broader public. The doors are open most Tuesdays through Saturdays.

The facility’s opening caps roughly 30 years of planning, artifact collection and squeezing into the community’s other gathering places, said Andy Vig, a member of the Cultural and Historical Preservation work group that helped develop the center.

“A lot of people have died waiting to see this,” he said Tuesday during a tour of the building, which stands just east of Mystic Lake Drive north of The Wilds Golf Club. “This was much needed and long overdue.”

The opening came a few weeks before this year’s Wacipi, the three-day dance ceremony and competition that runs Friday through Saturday in south Shakopee. Attendance this year is free of charge.

The center’s completion also coincides with the community’s 50th year since the federal government recognized it as a tribe. Vig said the two aren’t related. As he, other community leaders and the center’s museum make clear, 50 years is a small blip to the Dakota nation that stretched from present-day Canada to the American South.

“Mdewakanton: Dwellers of the Spirit Lake” offers the uncommon experience of an exhibit about a Native American tribe that was made by its subjects rather than outsiders. The voices of tribe members play in audio recordings of their ancestors’ historical writings and their own memories.

The displays move from prehistory to the present day, starting with Dakota creation stories of how the creator formed the land in the primordial waters. Native people hunted, fished, planted corn and gathered wild rice along the Minnesota River and other waterways for thousands of years.

Tools, garments and other historical handiwork made with buffalo hide and porcupine quill surround the walkway. Many of the pieces come from community members or from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Signs and interactive screens highlight cultural values and the Dakota language, such as names for local places or relatives — a kind of reclamation after that heritage was squashed in U.S. boarding schools and violence.

“This is at the heart of who we are,” Vig said, adding the exhibit is meant to educate the public in a way that might have pushed past events in a very different direction had it begun sooner. “Another thing is teaching our own children and our own people the long history.”

The exhibit explores much of that history’s complication and pain. The 1862 conflict between the U.S. and several native fighters is called the U.S.-Dakota War, for instance, but the Dakota were split on what to do at the time, said Michael Kurtz, a cultural interpreter at the center.

Some thought adapting to their lives under enforced American culture was best even as they starved on reservation land; many young men blamed their leaders for losing their land and wanted to fight to take it back, Kurtz said.

Vig said his great-great uncle was among those who scouted for the U.S. Army and led some settlers to safety. Hundreds of settlers and scores of Dakota died in the war, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.

Displays on the subsequent Dakota exile from the state, harsh boarding schools in the 1900s and the Mdewakanton community’s development on reservation and trust land within Prior Lake and Shakopee all bring the exhibit to modern times.

The tribe’s federal recognition in 1969 came after it demonstrated to the government that it had distinct membership and longstanding status as a single community, among other considerations.

Recognition allows tribes to set up formal governments and receive services from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, but “sovereignty is not a gift,” one exhibit display states. “It’s a right we always had as a tribal nation, long before European settlers came to this continent.”

Outside of the exhibit, Vig said Hocokata Ti’s design evokes several tribal priorities. Its walls are circular, echoing the importance of natural cycles. Its floors include rocks from the Minnesota. Trails for members run through native plants and water features that recall the former riverside village in Shakopee.

“A big part of Dakota culture is not just here in this museum and whatever, it’s out there,” Vig said.

Community editor

Dan Holtmeyer is the community editor for the Prior Lake and Savage papers. He grew up in Nebraska and worked as a journalist in Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas before coming to Minnesota in 2018.