Minnesota to make amends, return state land to Dakota people

Minnesota making amends, returning state land to Dakota people

Minnesota making amends, returning state land to Dakota people

For the first time ever, the state of Minnesota is returning state park land back to the descendants of those who called the land home first.

Over the next decade, the state will be returning the Upper Sioux Agency State Park to the Dakota people.

The state park spans a bit more than 2 square miles, sits just outside the city of Granite Falls, and is about two and a half hours from the Twin Cities.

“It is the site of skirmishes, of death, of burials, historic burials, and it’s a sacred ground to our Dakota people,” state Sen. Mary Kunesh, DFL-New Brighton, said about the state park’s history.  

During the last legislative session, the deal was finalized along party lines — it’s personal work for Kunesh.

“I come from a long line of [activists],” Kunesh said. “My great aunt [was] the first woman chairperson for the Standing Rock Nation.”

The move to return the land is a step towards making amends surrounding the death, destruction and lasting damage done from the Dakota War of 1862 that resulted in the largest mass hanging in U.S. history.

“Moving forward, as Dakota people, I think our ancestors would be smiling,” said Kevin Jensvold, tribal chairman of the Upper Sioux Community.

The Upper Sioux Community sits just outside the state park.

“Those lands, you know, for whatever reason, our ancestors determined were going to be preserved and protected for the Dakota people for forever, [but] due to circumstances [and a] difficult history, that wasn’t the case,” Jensvold said.

This has been a goal of Jensvold for nearly two decades following a tribal elder telling him it was unjust for Dakota people to have to pay to visit the graves of their ancestors.

“To be able to say that that was returned to our people, it was a historic and humbling moment, a lot of reflection on what our ancestors wanted for us,” Jensvold said about the land deal.

It will take some time, with the land transfer expected to be done by 2033. Part of the legislation also includes money to be allocated to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to develop an “alternative recreational opportunity” or opportunities. The agency is accepting public feedback on those alternatives until Sept. 15.