The Mahkato Wacipi

We spent a good portion of our Saturday on the grounds at Land Of Memories Park in Mankato, Minn., for the 46th Annual Mahkato Wacipi, a gathering sponsored by the Shakopee Mdewankanton Sioux Community, the Prairie Island Indian Community, Mankato Area Public Schools, KMSU, and The Center for American Indian Affairs. This year’s theme was “Honoring the 38 Dakota,” and the overall tone was one of reconciliation and reflection about that terrible chapter in Minnesota history.

The 38 refer to the Dakota who were executed on the public square in downtown Mankato on December 26, 1862, in the wake of the Dakota conflicts. The effects of that event and that year on Minnesota culture and living continue to ripple in many ways, and the tribes who sponsor and organize the Wacipi continue to hold it in Mankato in part as a means of calling attention to them, and to foster the reconciliation between First Nation peoples and others in the community.

My husband and I have attended many such gatherings over the years. One of my personal interests in First Nation culture stems from my own search for the roots of the family story that suggests our own descent from one of the tribes on the U.S. eastern seaboard. We can neither confirm nor deny that story at this point, though my search continues.

In those early years of my childhood, I lived in northern Wisconsin, very near the La Courte Oreilles Ojibwa reservation, and in the company of many Ojibwa and St. Croix Chippewa tribe members. While I’ve been told and I’ve read that things were pretty tense in the area of my youth at the time, (it was the late 1970s and the American Indian Movement deeply impacted the area) what I remember was many, many conversations and sharing of cultures.

I distinctly remember a school assembly that featured local tribal leaders in Luck, and my summer day camp featured cultural traditions from the local tribes. One of our guests at that camp was an elder woman who made fry bread over an open fire on the grounds. I remember also trying wild rice and other foods common to our neighbors.

And I remember the drums, and the dancing.

These early events frame my favorite experiences when I go to a gathering. I love to browse the vendor booths featuring handcrafted items, and I always buy at least one pair of earrings. This year’s are hand-cast pewter medallions that feature butterflies. I must taste the fry bread, and I must watch the Grand Entry that features all the dancers and the important songs and ceremony.

We brought our little girls to the Wacipi for the first time this year, and they enjoyed coloring on popsicle sticks to make their own game. They tasted their first fry bread, fresh, hot, and coated in cinnamon sugar. Two elders who sat with us at our picnic table nicknamed my four-year-old “Quick Hands” because she was able to catch her popsicle stick with one hand immediately after dropping it through the crack of the table with the other.

We talked with many people, and my three-year-old literally ran in circles around me as we moved through the grounds. I was able to quietly witness the reconciliation ceremony on Saturday that featured descendants of the 38, while my husband took the girls for another walk through the grounds. But my girls came to me and watched with wide eyes as the Grand Entry began. It featured dancers in order and full regalia, and the rhythm of the drums, the motions of the dance, and the quick melodic jingles of the jingle dresses held their attention through all the first dances.

The Mahkato Wacipi site features a page devoted to dancing etiquette. I’m afraid that my own mobility was limited this year so I didn’t join the dancing, as I often do when Intertribal Dancing is called, but if you’re inspired to go to a Wacipi in the future, do check out the etiquette rules.

The weather was perfect, sunny and cool, and we’ll be glad to go again next September, and meet old and new friends.

And yes, I do have a recipe for Fry Bread. For another post.

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