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Mendota Dakota may lose center, News Article + photo

Mendota Dakota may lose center

By NICOLE NORFLEET, Star Tribune

September 4, 2010

The water at the two-story home of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community hasn’t been working for weeks. The garage door looks like a wrecking ball could have hit it. The wood foundation of the sweat lodge, which is supposed to serve as a spiritual haven, is left exposed without a tarp.

Tribal council members think they have enough money to pay the rent for the Mendota house that they’ve been using as a community center through October. But if they aren’t awarded a grant in the next couple of months, they don’t know what they’ll do after that.

"Our water’s been out for almost a month, and it’s ridiculous," said Jim Anderson, cultural chairman for the community. "These are the kind of struggles that we have all the time just to keep a place open that has our information, that has the history."

imageThe community center serves in many capacities to the 300-member Mendota Dakota community. It’s where members hold tribal council meetings, teach Dakota language classes and plan preservation efforts.

But even after the landlord reduced the monthly rent from $1,200 to $800 in July, money and time are running out. Funds from a three-year, $60,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation are dwindling. Tribal council members are applying for another grant from the foundation this month.

"If things don’t change, we’ll probably be moving somewhere else at the end of October," said tribal council member Sharon Lennartson.

The location of the community center, which is up for sale by the owner, is important to the group, said some of its tribal council members. The place nearby where the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers meet is where the Mendota Dakota traditionally believe life began, Anderson said.

"It’s the place of our origin, the place of our genesis, the place where the Creator put us," he said.

While a location in Chaska has been brought up as an alternative, community members want to stay in Mendota. "This is where we’re from, and to lose that is a huge loss," said tribal vice chairman Jim Albrecht.

A feast in slim times

Even as they are trying to figure out the fate of their center, the Mendota are preparing for their annual powwow.

Unlike the recent powwow of their peers farther south, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Mendota group won’t be able to shoot off fireworks or offer thousands of dollars in prize money for the dancers. In Mendota, they couldn’t afford new T-shirts or buttons, so they are going to sell the ones from last year, Lennartson said.

Some people generalize when they think of Native Americans, she said. "They think, ‘Those rich Indians,’ but we’re far from it," she said. "We’re on the other side of the tracks."

The Shakopee own the Mystic Lake Casino Hotel and Little Six Casino, along with other enterprises. Plus, they are acknowledged by the federal government as a recognized tribe, giving them access to funding and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Mendota Dakota applied for federal recognition in the late 1990s, but federal reviewers pointed to deficiencies and omissions in the group’s petition.

Reapplying would take resources and manpower, both of which the group is short of, Lennartson said.

She is paid $25 a week to serve as receptionist, webmaster and bookkeeper for the community, she said. For the past few weeks, she has been working more from home because the water isn’t working at the center.

Despite the uncertainty about the center and the community’s future, the Mendota Dakota are forging ahead.

"Somehow, we always seem able to put the powwow on and feed the people and everything else, so it works out," Anderson said. "The Creator has been watching out for us in good ways, but it gets hard trying to struggle just to pay the bills and to keep one place here."

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495

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