Bridging the Cultural Gap Winonans, Wapasha people join forces for Grand Excursion
By Margie Cady The Wapasha people are coming home.
The Winona community and the Dakota people have started the reconciliation process, with an event that begins - but does not end - with the Grand Excursion, Winona officials announced Monday afternoon at City Hall.
Named after Chief Wapasha III and his father and grandfather, Wapasha Prairie was settled by whites and renamed Winona.
Monday's gathering included a descendent, Leonard Wapasha, of the Lower Sioux Indian community in Morton, Minn.
"It's like coming home," Wapasha said of being in Winona.
The visit is bittersweet, however.
"I think of my ancestors and what it was like to be here," Wapasha said.
The proposed Grand Excursion events would take place June 26-30 at Lake Park, on the peninsula west of the hospital under Sugar Loaf.
The activities include a Dakota encampment of 10-15 teepees and 30 Unity Dakota riders, said Bill McNeil, who is among a group of Winona residents organizing the event. The first two days will focus on the homecoming with a powwow, with up to 200 dancers, ceremonies and feasts.
"I'm looking forward to this event, this bridging of cultures," Wapasha said. "It brings the Dakota people back to the heart of the land."
Wapasha said his people held ceremonies at what is now known as Sugar Loaf. Another goal of the partnership is to develop a long-term relationship with the Dakota people similar to that of Winona and its sister cities, said Eric Sorensen, city manager.
"We're going to make this thing happen, not only for this year, but for many years to come," Mayor Jerry Miller said.
Sorensen was among a group of Winona residents who traveled to western Minnesota and the Dakotas to meet with the American Indians.
"It was a wonderful experience," Sorensen said. "Much more energizing than I thought it would be."
Councilman Tim Breza, who also was part of that contingent, said the trip taught him about himself and the Dakota community. "We're all the same," he said. "Literally, we're all the same."
Breza said the partnership is a good opportunity to reconcile with the past and to mend its injustices.
Because its their home, he feels a bit funny about inviting the Dakota people to Winona.
"I think it's a positive step towards a relationship that is perhaps overdue," Wapasha said of the partnership.