Elizabeth Morgan Director - Cultural Resorce Management Director
To potential sponsors/participants of the Diversity Foundation initiative!!!
Over the past several years, I have been working closely with the Diversity Foundation Inc. as one of their cultural and elder advisors. This work has mainly involved projects concerning Reconciliation and developing a more accurate History of our Dakota (Sioux) people. I was born and raised on the Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota where I am currently the Cultural Resource Management director and also serve on the Indian Health Board and the Devils Lake water crisis committee for our community.
I was raised on a Reservation farm where my father worked all of his life. Both he and my mother worked hard on the farm, and despite never having any opportunity to be educated, they were respected and looked to for leadership and guidance by many Indian people. My father lived to be almost a 100, and several on our "Rez" had adopted him as their Indian father, which was considered a top honor and the equivalent of being a "chief" in our Dakota Nations past.
Like my parents, and many of my friends and relatives before me, I've spent much of my life concerned and committed to trying to improve the conditions and lives of our Indian people. For many years I worked as a Community and Home Health Care provider, as an alcohol and drug counselor, as well as with other elder and youth programs at St. Jude's Elder Center, Four Winds school etc. I have also been trained as an EMT/medic and served as a Volunteer ambulance driver for our Reservation and the surrounding non-Native community.
In the 1970's, I was one of the first women to ever serve on our tribal council. Over the years, many in my family have been actively involved in Tribal leadership and work involved with trying to make a difference for our Indian people. My husband (now deceased) and daughter have each served many years as Tribal Council Chairpersons. Other children and relatives have worked and continue to work in Law Enforcement, Health Care, Education, Housing, Gaming, etc., as well as other leadership positions on this and other Tribal Reservations.
All over the Midwest and Indian Country, we continue to witness the pain, suffering and struggles especially of and among our Dakota/Lakota people that goes back generations to the 1800's with the "whiteman's" arrival and the beginning of the Reservation system. The far-reaching effects of this long-term oppression, racist policies and past attitudes by our Federal and state governments, "Christian" churches, boarding schools and emigrant European society continue to alienate us from each other as well as from the non-Indian. One major result of these effects has been massive health problems for our people including epidemic levels of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, alcoholism, suicide, and "hopelessness," etc., giving us the lowest life expectancy of all the U.S. minority and ethnic populations. Besides the near destruction of our social and cultural values, the majority of our "Once Great Sioux" Nation is faced with massive unemployment and with substandard housing, roads and overall infrastructure. This, at a time when the latest stereotype has many in the "mainstream" believing that "all Indians are now rich" with the advent of the gaming and the "Casino-Myth" that has been a windfall to "a few tribes" located near large Cities.
After the "1862 Conflict" most of our surviving Dakota people were exiled from the rich, fertile lands of Southern Minnesota to remote and more destitute areas of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana and Canada. Those of us who were fortunate enough to have their ancestors survive the Hanging of the "38" in Mankato, the winter imprisonment at Ft. Snelling, the harsh winters and years of disease and starvation where over a third of our people died. We were assigned and relegated to reservations like Santee, Sisseton, Spirit Lake (first named Devils Lake by early Missionaries), Crow Creek, Standing Rock etc.
Some of our relatives settled in the Black Hills with the written promises made by the 1851-1868 Laramie Treaties guaranteeing this area as their Home and to be kept as "Indian Lands" forever!!! This was just another false promise (treaty) that lasted but a short while until the discovery of gold, whereby the military, including Col. Custer, were again sent to kill and remove us. Many of our people, including my own mother's family, were then forced to flee to remote areas in Canada. Many of my relatives and Dakota descendents continue to live on these "Reserves" to this day. They live in isolated communities (with names like Sioux Valley, Bird Tail, Dakota Tepee, Dakota Plains, Standing Buffalo, etc.) and are often referred to as "Exiles or Refugees," yet to this day, both by the government and by other Indians indigenous to the North.
I offer this history for better understanding of the Reconciliation projects and Historical Documentaries with which the Diversity Foundation has been involved, and why they are so necessary. They will help facilitate the forgiveness, cultural education, understanding and Healing process among our own Dakota/Lakota people as well as with the non-Native population.
For the past six years, I and members of my family have been attending Reconciliation events in Southern Minnesota which, until the 1862 Conflict and exile, served as the "Home-land" to our Dakota (Sioux) people. These events included the annual December 26th commemorative Run from Ft. Snelling to Mankato, the Birch Coulee and Mankato Reconciliation Wacipis and educational activities. My family and I have found attending these events a necessary process toward healing for ourselves, our ancestors as well as toward the non-Native people.
It was during these first years that I met representatives with the Diversity Foundation and began to help support their efforts to film, photograph and capture these historic and monumental events. I began to see the importance of documenting these and other Reconciliatory activities across Minnesota and the Dakotas.
Diversity's mission was and continues to be giving positive recognition and annual awards to those individuals who help to "Bridge the Gaps" across all cultures. These awards have been given to people like Dakota Spiritual Leader Amos Owen and Mankato Businessman Bud Lawrence who, despite ridicule and persecution, began a mutual friendship in the 1950's, and later became Co-Founders of Mankato's annual Wacipi and Reconciliation events in 1972. Their mutual friendship and trust was especially unique considering the hatred and racism that had existed between the Indians and the Mankato community since 1862's hanging of our "38" Dakota warriors.
1997 marked the 135th anniversary since this execution as well as the 25th year since Amos and Bud's annual Reconciliation efforts began. Diversity's film team was able to capture all of these events including the dedication of the 67-ton Buffalo sculpture on the site of the hanging. In addition, they filmed and conducted interviews with many Native and non-Native elders who have been organizers and involved with these healing efforts, over the years.
It is important that these elder interviews be recorded, recalling our early Dakota oral history, and that the entire Mankato Reconciliation Movement story be told and shared with young and old, Native and non-Native across the Great Plains. This example of intercultural Unity can and should be a model to other communities, especially those surrounding our Dakota Reservations, where this hatred, racism and internalized oppression continue and manifest strongly to this day.
For the past several years, I have also been involved with Birch Coulee's "Gathering of Kinship" Wacipi and healing ceremonies held near the Lower Sioux Reservation at Morton, MN. These events began as a vision of Baine Wilson, a full-blood Dakota man who, like many of us, prayed and hoped to see a day of more Unity between ourselves as well as with the non-Native people. Unfortunately, Baine passed away during 2000, but his dream is still with us as we continue his mission. Diversity filmed and helped organize these events, which also paid tribute to the Spirits of our "38" and gave us more closure by honoring "All our Relatives" who once called Minnesota their "Homeland."
Over the past several years, other ceremonies have been held where representatives and mayors from Redwood Falls, New Ulm, Sleepy Eye, Mankato, St. Peter and Mendota attended with each extending apologies and sorrow for the past and a wish for improved relations between our cultures. Besides these, Diversity has also been involved with filming and/or organizing a number of other interviews and/or events of unity and reconciliation in Southern Minnesota (Lower Sioux, Morton, Red Wood Falls, Mankato, Prairie Island, Mystic Lake, Winona, Wabasha etc). Also, gifts and tobacco offerings have been made to elders and leaders at Dakota Reservations outside of Minnesota directly affected by the 1862 Conflict. These include the Sisseton and Flandreau Reservations in South Dakota, Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota and Sioux Valley, Dakota Tepee, Bird Tail and other Reserves in Canada. Some filming of interviews with descendents of Chief Wabasha has also been done at the Santee Reservation in Nebraska.
Diversity Foundation and our advisory team feel strongly that, despite our past, these positive events and stories need to be publicized and included, together with footage of Gov. Perpich's 1987 "Year of Reconciliation" in Minnesota as well as Gov. Michelson's 1990 "Year of Reconciliation" in South Dakota. We've also been attending and feel it important to include healing ceremonies involving our Lakota brothers and sisters. (Together we were all once part of the "Great Sioux Nation"). The annual "Wiping of the Tears" horseback-journey paying respect to the more than 300 relatives (many of them women and children) slaughtered at Wounded Knee in 1890.
Also, Diversity representatives and I have been visiting and saying prayers at Bear Butte and Crazy Horse Mountain, in South Dakota, and Devils Tower, Wyoming, along with other places considered sacred by our Indian people. We've also been attending sobriety pow-wows, cultural and language programs and connecting with like minded people at Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Standing Rock, Yankton, Sisseton and Crow Creek Reservations, along with many at off-reservation sites in Rapid City, Bismarck, Fargo, Pierre, etc.
In Indian Culture, with the new Millennium upon us, many signs are being given to us that the time for Healing and Unity among all people is now! Signs such as the birth of several "White Buffalo calves," and the major growth and comeback of Buffalo herds all across Indian Country and our nation. Our spiritual leaders and elders remind us that this is now the Seventh Generation and, as the prophecies predicted, Indian people are finally gaining acceptance and taking pride in our Heritage and Culture after over 200 years of genocide and denial.
In my role as CRM director, I've also been attending many seminars, cultural ceremonies and Repatriation events where hundreds of our Dakota/Lakota ancestors' remains have finally been released by museums, research hospitals and universities and brought back home to our people. Thousands of additional bones and remains have been mysteriously surfacing along the Missouri River, all across South and North Dakota as a result of the many dams, reservoirs and lakes constructed in the 1930's and 40's by the Army Corps of Engineers and other Federal departments. Again, these projects were often placed on or near our reservation land, further dividing our lands and people in favor of electricity, water and recreational areas for the European invaders (immigrants?).
The Army Corps had been mandated and responsible for moving our Indian cemeteries to higher ground before this construction began but, again, we were given another broken promise by the white-man. It has been very sad and hurtful to attend these ceremonies and experience the pain, suffering and anger felt by myself and our Dakota/Lakota people on behalf of our ancestors who for generations were treated as animals with no respect nor dignity. I am happy these Repatriation and coming home events are finally happening, but one doesn't have to wonder very long about why our people don't trust, and why we continue to suffer from the social and psychological diseases including alcoholism, suicide, shortest life span and overall hopelessness.
On behalf of myself as Director of Cultural Resource Management for Spirit Lake Nation, my family, and many other Dakota/Lakota relatives, I offer our fullest support and appreciation for the years of tireless work and dedication made by the Diversity Foundation on behalf of our "First People."
As I mentioned earlier, I've been working as an elder advisor with Ed Lohnes, Lyle Rustad and other Diversity volunteers for several years. When we first met they had recently completed the 1995 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG), bringing over 8,000 Native youth from the U.S. and Canada together for the first time ever in this country. Ed (who is also an enrolled member of our Spirit Lake Reservation) had been the CEO of NAIG and Lyle had assisted him with coordinating the filming of events, as well as helping with the Sacred Runs that came from Canada through our North Dakota and Minnesota Reservations and into the National Sports Center in Blaine, M N. For everyone involved, this was truly a monumental and Historic Indian Sports and Cultural Olympics. Unfortunately, these events have not continued since in the U.S., due to a few of our own Tribal leaders infighting and refusing to cooperate with each other for the sake of our Indian youth. Also, the Federal Government failed to support these long-overdue Indigenous Games, as well.
Experiences such as these, and many others I've witnessed over my lifetime as an American Indian, are the main reasons I fully endorse and support the role of the Diversity Foundation. Diversity as an outside non-profit organization (with a wide variety of cultural professionals serving on its board and Native advisory team) has gained my respect and earned a reputation as a neutral facilitator with an honest vision and commitment to being fair and working toward the truth.
For far too long, the Federal (including BIA) and state governments have had very little respect and ability to communicate or fairly administer programs on our Reservations. This lack of trust, incompetence, nepotism, (and often corruption) have too often extended themselves to our Tribal Governments and operations as well. These closing years of the 20th century found massive unrest and dissatisfaction with Tribal leaders, especially among our Dakota/Lakota "Grassroots" people. Numerous Council member recalls, protests, and/or takeovers have occurred across South and North Dakota. As most anyone who has lived and worked on or with the Reservation system can attest, this ineffective structure is so heavily embedded that it has become a "Way of Life." The only real way to break the cycle is to start over or move away as many of our most talented people have done.
The only real alternative and "Hope" for change is for each of us to find a willingness to forgive and develop a mutual understanding and trust with one another. The Diversity Foundation's initial goal/mission continues by presenting a more accurate account of history from a Native perspective. Even though I'm not a direct descendent of Chief(s) Wabasha, I fully support their on-going efforts to feature these well-respected leaders in phase I of their "Reconciling with History" documentary series. This production will feature the lives of Chiefs Wabasha I, II, and III, and their pre-European settlement at Wapasha's Prairie (now known as Winona, MN), an area where their residence and hunting territory extended along the Mississippi River from Lake Pepin to La Crosse, Wisconsin. Again, this is a large part of history left out of our schools and history books.
Once this Documentary is completed, our Native advisory team will select other Chiefs and Native historical people to honor. We feel it is most important to get these stories included in schools, libraries and history curricula both on and off our reservations across the Great Plains. It is most important to utilize the latest technology (interactive CD-ROM, web sites, etc) in these productions, to gain the largest interest and audience possible. Public Television in both South and North Dakota have also expressed a willingness to air these documentaries.
In my own experience, and in our Dakota/Lakota travels and discussions with elders, tribal teachers, spiritual leaders, etc., many expressed great concern that the youth are no longer listening to their elders and their oral history. As our elders pass on to the spirit world, many are taking their culture, tradition and language with them. In addition to the "Reconciling with History" series, Diversity has agreed to help me and other Dakota/Lakota Cultural Management and tribal archives directors to record each tribal community's individual history and elders for their own archives. Eventually these plans will include utilizing and training Native student interns in these projects. As this is a very large project, requiring immediate attention, Diversity will attempt to network and coordinate with various media and other production people (giving preference to those with significant experience in Indian cultures) when mutual goals and vision are established.
In closing, I again want to offer my fullest support to Diversity and its mission. I personally will commit and continue to serve to the best of my ability as one of their elder advisors. I would likewise encourage others who are interested and able to support our efforts to join us with whatever resources and talents they can afford. This entire historical documentary series and Reconciliation "Homecoming" is a huge undertaking but one that is long over-due! To be successful, it will require the prayers, financial support, talents and cooperation of many from both our Native and non-Native communities, working together to overcome past injustices, to the mutual benefit of all.
I sincerely feel that, together, we can grow and set examples for other Indian Nations and cultures to emulate. Please join us in this endeavor!