Rochester Minnesota Indian Heights Park Healing and Reconciliation Ceremony (April, 2012)
Dedication Ceremony at Rochester Indian Heights Park. Speakers include Dakota Leaders and Elders Dave Larson (Lower Sioux Community, MN) Peter Lengkeek (Crow Creek Indian Reservation, SD) Rev. Sidney Byrd (Flandreau Indian Reservation, ND) and Rochester Mayor, Ardell Brede
Ceremony Starts Year of Mourning for Ancestors at Indian Heights Park
Written by: Matt Russell Reprinted from the Rochester Post-Bulliten; April 25, 2012
Peter Lengkeek (Crow Creek)
With songs, storytelling, and the passing of a sacred pipe, American Indians from Rochester and beyond held a ceremony Tuesday (April 25, 2012) to start a year of mourning for their ancestors at Indian Heights Park on the city’s northwest side.
The Dakota passed through the Indian Heights Park area periodically, camped along the river nearby, and used the hill as a sacred burial site.
“We’re going to help our relatives get home,” said ceremony leader Peter Lengkeek of the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation in South Dakota as he stood at the park’s entrance in a circle of roughly 40 people.
The ceremony came nearly six months after the Rochester Park Board voted to preserve the 36-acre park and study its historic and cultural significance. The decision came as the park board rejected a proposal from local bicyclists to develop mountain biking paths in the park.
The historical study, which will not involve any excavation of the park, is planned for 2013 unless funding can be found sooner, said Rochester parks and forestry division head Mike Nigbur. A redesigned entrance that includes a kiosk or other historical markers is also being planned to teach visitors about the history of the area believed to be an American Indian burial site.
Before any of that happens, however, it was important to hold the ceremony on Tuesday, said James Wilson, chairman of the Native American Center of Southeast Minnesota.
“This needs to be the first step,” he said.
Wilson was among the people who attended the ceremony, including Rochester Park and Recreation Department officials, park neighbors, Mayor Ardell Brede, and American Indian community members from Rochester and elsewhere in the region.
Peter Lengkeek (Crow Creek), Sid Byrd (Flandeau), Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, Dave Larsen (Lower Sioux) with the Rochester Proclamation
While Nigbur called the ceremony “one step in the process" of things to come at the park, Wilson called the ceremony “the grand kick-off” to everything else to follow.
Brede presented a proclamation at the ceremony declaring April 24-May 1 as Celebrate Dakota Week in Rochester, a gesture that was welcomed by ceremony co-leader David Larsen of the Lower Sioux Indian Community in Redwood County, Minnesota.
“Just you being here gives us all a lift,” said Larsen, who called Tuesday one of the best days of his life.
Indigenous peoples have lived in the Rochester area for nearly 13,000 years, according to Brede's proclamation. Valerie Decora Guimares organized the ceremony with fellow Rochester Dakota community members Betty Smith and Shirley Greising.
Because of the tragic way that the people buried at Indian Heights Park died — from starvation, disease, and brutality at the hands of European settlers — a protocol needs to be followed by tradition in order to send those ancestors home, Lengkeek said.
The ceremony on Tuesday opened a door for sending them home, he said. Another ceremony, called the “wiping of the tears,” will be held at the park a year from Tuesday’s ceremony to mark the end of the year of mourning.
Also playing a role in organizing the ceremony was the Diversity Foundation, a regional organization devoted to bridging gaps between cultures.
Native American elders who attended the ceremony included the Rev. Sidney Byrd, 93, of the Flandreau Indian Reservation in South Dakota. At the ceremony, he spoke about the need for reconciliation between peoples, which he said could be accomplished by building bridges of mutual understanding, mutual enrichment, and mutual respect.
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Rochester, Minnesota Indian Heights Park Reconciliation and Healing Ceremony Pictures