25th annual pow-wow commemorates a people striving to preserve their culture.
About the time maples and birches reveal their first hint of autumnal glory, the rhythmic THUMP-thump-thump-thump of a
drumbeat drifts throughout the Mississippi River valley. Also carried along on the breeze are a chorus of proud voices
chanting ancient songs or humming guttural tunes that commemorate long forgotten ways. The music emanates each
September from the Mdewakanton's Traditional Wacipi (pow-wow), which takes place this year September 9-11 at St.
Peter’s Historial Church, 1405 Sibley Memorial Hwy, Mendota MN. This is the 25 th anniversary of the pow-wow, yet its
origins stretch back centuries, to a time before statehood and a time before Europeans first set foot on land we know today as
the United States of America.
Pow-wows are the customary way many North American indigenous communities celebrate their culture and heritage.
The drum is the heartbeat of the celebration and provides the rhythm for vocalists who sing songs of remembrance.
Dancing is also a key part of the celebration, with dancers wearing colorful, beaded regalia and feathered headdresses.
Any celebration would not be complete without food, and at the Mendota pow-wow you’ll find fry bread, with Sharon’s
maple butter, walleye fingers, buffalo burgers, Indian tacos (fry bread stuffed with taco fillings), as well as hamburgers
and hot dogs. The pow-wow, which is free and open to anyone wanting to learn more about Dakota customs, is one way
the Mendota Dakota Tribal Community promotes its mission of “Preserving, protecting and promoting the Dakota culture
for future generations.” There is a $10.00 donations for a button that helps pay for the Pow-wow.
The group was formed in 1994 by Bob Brown, Linda M. Brown and Beverly Scott, Linda A. Brown, Sharon’s siblings and
nephews Mike Scott and Jim Anderson. The ultimate goal is to reclaim a place of their own. The majority of the 125-member
group trace their ancestry to Mendota in the 1700s. Lennartson and others are descendants of two Dakota chiefs known by
Little Crow / Taoyateduta & Cetanwakanmani. And the interracial marriages or affairs between Dakota women and
French fur traders or military personnel. This ancestry makes the group unique in that descendants were not readily
accepted by either the Dakota or White communities. Seeking to reclaim their Native American identity, Mendota Dakota
families applied to be accepted into the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community in the 1990s but were told they didn’t
qualify for membership under the tribe’s bylaws. Unlike other tribes that require members to be 25% native to their tribe, the
Mendota Dakota accepts anyone from the above-mentioned lineage.
“Half of our community were not raised as natives because how badly we [Dakota] were treated,” said Lennartson,
chairwoman of the 5-member Tribal Council.
Lennartson is the great-great-grandaughter of Hypolite DuPuis and Angelique Renville, a Dakota woman who was born in
Kaposia Village, located near present-day South St. Paul. French Canadian Dupuis was a fur trader, justice of the peace
and Dakota County's first treasurer. His home is one of four buildings in the Sibley Historic Site in Mendota. At one time,
Dupuis also managed the fur trading store of Henry Hastings Sibley, a fur trader who went on to become a military
general and eventually Minnesota’s first governor. Sibley, who himself had a child with a Dakota woman, is not well-
revered by the Mendota Dakota for his actions during the U.S.-Dakota War, which contributed to the largest mass
execution in U.S. history when 38 Dakota men were hanged near Mankato in December 1862. Nonetheless, it was Sibley
who gave land to the Dakota people living near Mendota, and who tried unsuccessfully to get the government to grant
land or money for land to about two dozen Dakota, known as the “20 Friendlies.” When Sibley died in 1891, the Dakota
were forced off his property. Many stayed in the area because of its special significance.
The confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers marks the cradle of Dakota civilization, and the region has three
sites that are sacred to the Dakota. All have been adversely affected by development. Four Sacred Grandfather Oaks were
cut down during the 1999 rerouting of State Highway 55 in South Minneapolis, Coldwater Sacred Spring (Mnihdoka
Wakan) near present day Minnehaha Regional Park was damaged during the building of a U.S. military camp, and Pilot
Knob (Oheyawahe-Much Visited Hill) in Mendota Heights, a sacred burial place and the site where the treaty of 1841
(unratified) and the 1851 Treaty of Mendota were signed, was heavily damaged by commercial development. The tribal
community has been working with the Pilot Knob Preservation Association, the Preserve Camp Coldwater Coalition and
other groups to protect these sites from future development.
The Mendota Dakota are proud of their Native American heritage and have been working for nearly three decades to be
federally recognized as their own tribe. Lennartson said this would open the door to major funding sources, allowing her
group to purchase land or buy a building to house a learning center for instruction on the Dakota language and traditions, a
community center for social gatherings, and a health care facility. The group earned non-profit status in 1996 and has
recently been in negotiations that could provide the building block for that center. Lennartson could not divulge details but
teared up when talking about the amount of blood, sweat and tears it’s taken to get to this point. Since its formation, the group
has been housed in rented space in Mendota, and they long for a place of their own. They held their first-ever fundraiser for
the center in June, which brought in around $6,500.
Today, the tribal community hosts free Dakota language classes and traditional craft classes, and several annual events,
including the pow-wow, a Winter Solstice ceremony at Camp Coldwater, a remembrance ceremony to honor the Dakota
who were interred in the Fort Snelling concentration camp following the 1862 Dakota Conflict, and a traditional sugar
bush camp maple syrup event. They also work with the City of Mendota and the Mendota VFW on the Mendota Days
community celebration. This fall they will have a class on building a birch bark canoe, and one on making a tipi.
The pow-wow is their signature event and attracts approximately 5,000 people. It takes a great deal of planning and work,
and Lennartson and other volunteers s begin working in March to sort out logistics, book vendors and fundraise the needed
$28,000 to pull it off. The group annually receives a $10,000 grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council and makes
up the rest through other grants and donations. This year, they are facing a big challenge as they learned that a $15,000 grant
they were hoping to get fell through. The pow-wow, Lennartson said, always needs more volunteers and donations.
Lennartson is no stranger to challenges or hard work. She quit high school after her freshman year and spent the next 40 years
cleaning homes and businesses. In her younger days, you’d find on protest sites, battling The Establishment and fighting for
Native American rights. Three years ago, she discovered she had chronic lymphocytic leukemia and underwent six months of
chemotherapy, that knocked it into remission. Just recently, she learned it has returned. She is being treated with oral
chemomtherapy, which has her feeling horrible for 3-4 hours after consuming each pill. Yet, none of it stops her from making
sure this year’s pow-wow goes off without a hitch, and that the Mendota Dakota one day have a place to call their own.
“I’m a fighter. I’ll never give up,” said Lennartson, who will turn 76 just weeks before the pow-wow. “I invite everyone to
come out to the pow-wow, meet their local native community, and have a good time.”
This year’s pow-wow will feature an honorary dance to recognize Lennartson and her many years of service. While she’s
threatened to retire from the powwow committee chair many times before, her health is finally forcing her hand. Her successor
has not yet been named. One thing is certain, she’ll continue to share her wisdom and give advice and assistance when needed
to ensure Mendota Dakota traditions are preserved for future generations. Sharon is proud of her 3 sons, Sean Monahan, Dan
Monahan and Joe Lennartson her 2 grandsons Sam & Nick Monahan. Tommy Tomahawk is like a son to her and right had
man, along with Tommy son Riley.
For more information on Mdewakanton's Traditional Wacipi, or the Mendota Dakota Tribal Community, call 651-452-
4141 or visit www.MendotaDakota.com . Donations for the raffle would be greatly appreciated.