On a beautiful late September morning, the St. Joseph Workers (SJW) began a journey that would take them back in time and create meaning for their present experiences. The Workers along with SJW staff and Justice Associate Ashley Lopez, journeyed this day on a Sacred Sites Tour which gave us the chance to learn Minnesota history through Native American stories.

The leader for our journey was Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs (Mohican), Founder of Healing MN Stories.

Rev. Jacobs leads these tours as part of Healing Stories Minnesota with the Minnesota Council of Churches. Our tour consisted of three sites familiar to many locals: St. Peter’s Church in Mendota, Fort Snelling State Park and Pilot Knob Hill in Eagan. Each of these places is important to descendants of white European settlers but our tour this day would give us a different perspective. Rev. Jacobs shared the importance of these sites to the Dakota people. Through Rev. Jacobs stories we learned why these places are sacred to the Dakota people, the tragedies and traumas inflicted on them by white settlers and how that pain is experienced yet today through continued systemic racism. For some of us on the tour, we had never been taught the true details of the history of this place we call Minnesota. We were not fully aware of the local history of the native peoples from the 1862 “Dakota Wars” and Henry Sibley’s direct involvement in the hanging of 38 Native men in Mankato (now recognized as the largest mass execution in U.S. history).
From St. Peter’s Catholic Church (Minnesota’s first Catholic Church and a sacred Dakota site) to the Pilot Knob Hill (Oȟéyawahe, or “the place much visited” and an ancestral Dakota burial ground near Acacia Park Cemetery), to Fort Snelling State Park (place of the brutal internment of more than 1,700 Native American women, children and elders), Rev. Jacobs reminded us of the need to acknowledge that social justice work cannot be done without unity and humility. “Even though the world is broken, we have sacred
work to do.” Without recognizing the humanity in each other and working together in community, our work would be that much more difficult to accomplish. Sarah Goleman-Mercer described it in this way “Rev. Jacobs told stories of the strength, compassion, bravery, joy, heartbreak, and deep rage of the Dakota peoples; stories that are also held in the earth’s body, in the changing leaves of the trees, the groans of the earth, the flowing waters of the Mississippi.” Rev. Jacobs maintains that for Indigenous people stories are living, breathing and never-ending. It is a recognition that the violence of the past impacts the lives of those in the present, and the violence of today will affect the lives of those in the future. While white Minnesotans may look at the history as a closed book and in many ways place the blame on people of color for their own oppression, Rev. Jacobs emphasized that the colonization, genocide and cultural decimation of the Native peoples, and the violent cruelty, exploitation and dehumanization of the slave trade created consequences that impact people’s lives today.

At the end of the tour, the SJWs had new insights and knowledge to take with them for their service year. In reflecting on the experience, Britta Koenen says, “The most meaningful part of the tour was Rev. Jacobs’ storytelling; it held so much pain, loss, and beauty all at the same time. Understanding the straightforward facts of Dakota genocide in Minnesota is one thing, but it is quite another to know the spiritual truth at the core of this history. Rev. Jacobs’ incredible skill for sharing Dakota traditions and stories brought us far beyond a cerebral understanding of historical fact, and it was so powerful to feel that connection at every level of being.”

Lydia Vetsch reflected “I hope to continually recognize that this land is stolen from Dakota people and be intentional about educating others of what I had learned. I also hope to continue to educate myself
on Native American history and advocate for their communities.”

The tour may be over but the impact will continue in the minds, hearts and work of the SJWs.

It is through learning experiences like these that we are humbled to listen empathically, to deepen our understanding, to see our oneness and connection, and to strengthen our resolve to walk with our sisters and brothers. We are changed by such encounters, but are also challenged to look at how we act because of these learning experiences. We are reminded of the need to acknowledge that social justice work, OUR work, cannot be done without unity and humility. Without recognizing the humanity in each other and working together in community, our work would be that much more difficult to accomplish. How might we all, as a CSJ community, look at our collective history anew, look with new eyes and acknowledge the land we are on, and seek to grow in authentic relationship with our native dear neighbors in light of this history?

October 30th, 2020