Last month, Justice Associate Ashley Lopez joined the St. Joseph Workers (SJWs) and staff as we embarked on the Minnesota Healing Stories Sacred Sites Tour, led by Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs. A gifted storyteller and member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation, Rev. Jim Bear’s tours shine a light on the brutal hidden history of Minnesota’s journey to statehood.

Although most of us have learned about Minnesota’s history in school, we did not know the true details of the 1862 Dakota Wars and the internment camp at Fort Snelling, or Henry Sibley’s direct involvement in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Rev. Jim Bear leads groups through Bdote, or “the meeting place of two rivers.” Sitting at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, Bdote is home to many important Dakota ancestral sites, such as St. Peter’s (the oldest Catholic church in Minnesota), Fort Snelling State Park and Pilot Knob Hill.

The most powerful part of the tour took place at Fort Snelling State Park. As we listened to Rev. Jim Bear describe the horrors of the internment camp there during the Dakota Wars, we came to truly understand how the violent legacy of colonialism and genocide lives on today in the form of systemic racism. Yet even in recounting the cruelty and violence of these histories, Rev. Jim Bear never failed to uplift the resiliency and strength of the Dakota people. SJW Sarah Goleman-Mercer described the experience this way:  “Rev. Bear 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.”

Next, we headed east to Pilot Knob Hill to learn about the sacred burial grounds located there. Known in Dakota as Oȟéyawahe, or “the place much visited,” these ancestral Dakota burial grounds sit just across the way from Acacia Park Cemetery. In 2003, local Dakota activists and allies worked to get the site into the National Register of Historical Places, protecting its destruction by luxury real estate developers. How could two different sacred burial sites just across from one another, and be viewed so differently by society?

Finally, Rev. Jim Bear recounted a prophecy held by indigenous tribes across the country, in which a divine woman reveals that she will return in the future to heal the world on the brink of its collapse. “As I leave, so shall I return,” she says as she morphs into a white buffalo calf. Rev. Jim Bear told us that white buffalo have begun popping up more frequently across the country, and encouraged us to think of what we might do to move the work forward.

Engaging with Indigenous people and the history of their ancestral lands is an important part of seeking restorative justice. SJW 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 learned. I also hope to continue to educate myself on Native American history and advocate for their communities.” Currently, the Native American Awareness Working Group of the CSJ Justice Commission is in the process of creating what is known as a “land acknowledgement statement” in partnership with St. Catherine’s University. It is a way for the province and the university to honor the violent occupation of the lands they stand on. Land acknowledgement statements require tremendous research and the input of the Native American community. Learning about the history of the land from people like Rev. Jim Bear helps to inform this work.

Reflecting on her experience, SJW Britta Koenen said “The most meaningful part of the tour was Jim Bear’s 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. Jim Bear’s 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.” Rev. Jim Bear 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.

SJW 20-21 Cohort & Staff
CSJ Justice Office

October 30th, 2020