Starting on Monday, August 25 and lasting through September 12, St. Cloud State University will be host to a traveling exhibit titled “Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations”.
A collaborative project between the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, the Minnesota Humanities Center and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian the exhibit will be traveling around the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system over the next two years.
Profiling the importance of treaty agreements between the Dakota and Ojibwe nations and the U. S. federal government the exhibit will utilize a variety of media including video, historical and contemporary photographs and maps to explain how treaties have not only shaped the land of Minnesota but also the people who had inhabited it for generations.
“I never cease to be amazed at how the exhibit is traveling through the state,” Executive Director for the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council Annamarie Hill said.
“This exhibit is about the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) people. It’s about their history,” Hill said. Not only does the exhibit focus on the treaties signed by the Ojibwe, but also focuses on the Dakota people and their tumultuous history in the state whose namesake originates in the Dakota language.
“This exhibit is how we all came to this place called Minnesota,” she said.
The partnership between two of the collaborators, the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council and the Minnesota Humanities Center, has been in existence since 2009.
Since then, the “Why Treaties Matter” exhibit has received national attention, including, several awards.
“We use the power of the humanities to inspire students,” said Minnesota Humanities Center Director of Programs Casey DeMarais.
With four pillars of the exhibit—building and strengthening relationships, the power of story, learning from community voices and discovering community solutions—DeMarais highlighted that the main purpose of the exhibit was to bring people together.
“The exhibit is a collaboration between all 11 sovereign nations in Minnesota,” DeMarais said. Everything placed in the exhibit was carefully reviewed and approved by each of the tribes, seven Ojibwe and four Dakota, in the state.
“It’s our opportunity to create something different, something unique. Something to tell the stories of our people. Something to change the educational system. It is our gift to our people. It’s never been about us (the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council and the Minnesota Humanities Center). It’s been about bringing the truth to our people,” Hill said.
While the exhibit has been touring around the state, this newly launched two-year tour will be done in partnership with MnSCU and housed at 32 different institutions throughout the two years.
Approaching MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone about this project, Hill and DeMarais said the entire board of directors felt this type of exhibit belonged here.
“It’s been nothing short of a miracle, nothing short of a vision,” Hill said.
“We’ve been having meetings between MnSCU and the native nations,” Minnesota Indian Affairs Council’s (MIAC) Cultural Resources Director Jim Jones said. “Through MIAC we have been wanting to increase engagement throughout the MnSCU system.”
“We are exploring different avenues to build relationships with tribal communities,” Jones said.
Advocating for a change within the MnSCU system over its relationships with the American Indian community and American Indian students enrolled in the system, Jones said one of the main messages of this exhibit is to highlight the current relationship and seek out ways to improve it.
“There are many disparities within MnSCU. American Indians attend college and often time end up dropping out. We have the lowest college completion rate. So our focus is on preparation. How do we prepare students to make that journey? If you look at any other ethnic group, you see support programs for that student. Family support, and support from other institutions.”
Stating there seems to be a disconnect between the American Indian community and their sense of place within the MnSCU system, Jones and the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council want to help bridge the gap of understanding by working with MnSCU to help them understand the unique challenges American Indian students face.
“There are barriers in attending a MnSCU system,” Jones said. “We need to educate faculty and administration on the issues facing the American Indian community,” he said.
It is Jones’ hope that through the exhibit, “Why Treaties Matter,” people, not only students but faculty and administration, will gain a better understanding of the ramifications treaties have had and continue to have on the American Indian community.
“The United States government has made over 400 treaties with American Indians (across the nation). Every one of them has been broken,” Jones said.
And while significantly fewer treaties have been made in the state of Minnesota, they still have outreaching effects not only for tribal relations within the borders of Minnesota, but the entire country as well.
“My goal for this is to have people walk away with a sense of tribal history. And for them to gain a better understanding of a word few people grasp: Sovereignty. I would like them to walk away with a better understanding of tribal relationships.”
“Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations” will officially open at noon on August 25 with an opening ceremony featuring the Young Eagles Drum Group from the Leech Lake Reservation. The exhibit will be on display outside of the Cascade room in the Atwood Memorial Center.