Customer Reviews: Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota
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VINE VOICEon October 25, 2012
This is a pretty cool book in many ways, and I wish I could give it more stars, maybe 4, but there is something really missing in it that bothers me, which is why I have to give it only 2. I always applaud when Indian people assert their histories in the face of cultural genocide, and I applaud our Sioux brothers and sisters care for the land in Minnesota. I have only honor and applause for their efforts to protect the sacred places and burials. That's the good side of the book, which is why I give it two stars instead of only one. I was a friend of Maria Pearson and her work, although we disagreed on some things. I still miss her a lot.

I do not wish to offend our friends, but I would not be true to our Ioway ancestors if I did not say something, for we have a history and tradition of that place too. As a member of the Ioway tribe, I unfortunately find some of this book contradicts not only our Ioway history and traditions, it also ignores many established historic records and the archaeological evidence.

Our traditions hold that our Iowa and Otoe peoples were the first people in southeastern Minnesota, from at least A.D. 900 to 1700, from the maps and oral testimonies by our Ioway elders No Heart and Waw-no-que-skoona, documented in the 1830s and 1840s. Our Sioux brothers and sisters at that time were further north, towards Mille Lacs, until the late 1600s. Until that time, we had been friends and allies. We have stories about that. In fact, when the French came to the area looking to establish trading posts in the 1680s, the Sioux told them that the Minnesota River, Blue Earth area, and so on, was the land of the Iowas (ah-yo-way: spelled Ayoes, Ayavois, or pa-xo-che: spelled Paotet, etc.). We called ourselves Baxoje, and we had many settlements in the Lake Pepin-Red Wing area as well, down into northeast Iowa. It's like how outsiders use the word "Sioux", but the Sioux use Dakota or Nakota or Lakota themselves.

It seems to have been that the Dakota were being pushed south by the Ojibwa out of the Mille Lacs area, in part because of population growth and in part because the Ojibwa were getting pushed themselves from the east, due to the Beaver Wars of the Iroquois and Huron in Canada. The Ojibwa were squeezed between the Iroquois in the east and the Dakota in the west ("Sioux" comes from an Ojibwa word). Because of this, the Sioux pushed us south from our lands along the Minnesota River and southern Minnesota (including Lake Pepin, Twin Cities, Pipestone, Jeffers, etc.) We had lived there since time immemorial. The Dakota were north of there. We were friendly up until about 1700. That was told even by Dakota back in those days, such as Black Tomahawk, who told about the war in which we were defeated by the Sioux and the remains of our lodges were there to be seen.

The Ioway were fewer than the Sioux and we lost and moved southwest, out of Minnesota and northeastern Iowa, in about 1700. As I said earlier, this was all documented in the 1840s maps of No Heart and Waw-no-que-skoona.

In addition, this is all documented in the histories and maps of the French traders Perrot, Accault, and others. Finally, the Ioway and Otoe are firmly established to be the descendants of the Oneota archaeological culture which inhabited all that area from A.D. 900 to 1700, and our clans developed from the Woodland people who made the Woodland mounds, just like our brothers the Dakotas and other tribes up until that time. The Dakota were not descended from the Oneota, but from the Psinomani people, further north.

Because we were squeezed in by Euroamerican settlements and the decline of buffalo and other game, the Sioux (both Dakota as well as Yankton) and the Ioway fought without mercy. That was how things were from about 1700 until 1840 or so, when a Sioux chief and an Ioway chief killed each other. Having lost two of our best leaders, we all realized our folly and made peace at last. Today, the Dakota and Ioway are friends. In fact, although I am enrolled Ioway, some of my ancestors were Sioux too. Most of us have blood from many different tribes because of trading and intermarriage when making friends and adoption of each other as relatives. It's like how the British and the U.S. fought in the Revolution, or the U.S. fought Japan and Germany, yet all are now friends. That's history too.

Now of course, everybody has their own version of history. In that case, you have to look at ALL the evidence, the oral traditions and oral history, the written records and maps, and the archaeological cultures, IF you want to know about those things.

AFTER 1700, the Dakota took over southern Minnesota including the Minnesota River country as well as northern Iowa, all the way until the unfortunate events of 1856-1862 when they conflicted with the U.S. and lost. First we lost to them by 1700, and then they lost to the Big Knives (the Americans) by 1863. Thus is history made and told by those who win.

Again, I wish to congratulate our Sioux brothers and sisters for fighting for their land and lives, and becoming the new caretakers of those sacred places and our ancestral burials. The Dakota added a beautiful new layer of culture and history there that cannot be denied, and indeed should be celebrated. I hope they succeed in saving the land from self-interest and greed for money that is destroying it, whether the greed is that of white man or Indian. Aho.
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on January 9, 2013
Mni Sota Makoce is a compelling history of the Dakota people and Minnesota. Like the beautiful quilt on the book's cover, this history carefully pieces together a wide variety of primary material in making an eloquent case that Minnesota is the Dakota homeland. Original sources dating back to specific Dakota creation stories and also including Dakota oral histories, French maps, and Euro-American art, photos, legal documents, journals, and letters are supplemented by recent historical, legal, and anthropological scholarship, with thorough endnotes that are not to be missed and a comprehensive bibliography. Working in collaboration with Dakota tribal members, historians, educators, an anthropologist and an attorney, authors Gwen Westerman and Bruce White present a history that is as readable as it is fascinating, and that would be appropriate for anyone from middle-schoolers to post-dissertation scholars.

As an attorney, I was stunned by the side-by-side-by-side versions of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux: written English, government drafted/ written Dakota, government interpreted and government drafted/ written English transliteration of the latter, obtained by the book's authors. Together with the government's Treaty Journal as excerpted, this should be required reading in constitutional law classes.

Personally, I loved the drawings by Robert O. Sweeny of Dakota daily life in the 1850's. He also drew a picture of his neighbor's cabin where my French several-greats-grandparents lived, along with lots of pictures of various other people and places in the area. No doubt enhanced by the personal connection, Sweeny's drawings came to life for me. I saw through Sweeney's eyes what my grandparents saw. As with Mni Sota Makoce in its entirety, Sweeny's art left me wondering, and wanting more. There has to be more material, hopefully being found, restored, and developed as we think about it, revealing everyday Dakota life over time from family stories, photos, drawings and diaries of ordinary Dakota and other persons, and I am looking forward to seeing it.

As one of those people who usually just reads a book once and then passes it on to friends, with maybe a dozen books on hand at any one time that have been passed on to me, checked out from the library, or just had to be bought, the ultimate praise I give for this book is that it stays in my small, permanent collection.
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on November 25, 2012
This book is interesting to read. I particularly like the notes at the end which allows you to look up more info if you like. The format is also convenient in that in the margins of the pages are the years and titles of the times that the pages are about. It is also well illustrated, which makes reading it A-LOT more pleasing in my opinion, than basic print books.

But it leaves you wanting for more. There are pages such as 128, about "Red Rock" where it's existence is noted. But then there are only European descriptions of what it looked like, and that Dakota left offerings, but no further information or actual Indian accounts are shared, or even what it was all about.

There are also sections on Camp Coldwater Spring. It gives a good account of Gary Cavender's testimony on the sacredness of the spring. As far as I'm concerned, people's belief's are what they are...that's all fine and good- I'm not criticizing that belief in any way here...

But if you're literally writing a book on the subject of Dakota beliefs and connections to the land, then there should be accounts of at least the prominent Dakota who disagree on the places where this happened, especially given the extreme amount of controversy over this particular site.

The authors of this book leave out the majority of the narrative in this case;

In public statements starting in 1998 four oak trees standing in the way of a highway reroute, were declared sacred when a Dakota heard voices chanting there. Other Dakota, such as at the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, disagreed saying it was a ploy to stop the road. Soon after Gary Cavender came testifying that the oaks AND Coldwater spring were sacred. Then other elders came, and some had dreams and visions and declared that there were spirits around the sacred oaks, they were burial grounds, and that Coldwater Spring is sacred as well.

After a bunch of other controversy in 1999, the trees were cut down, no burials were found, the trees were much younger than they were claimed to be, and then the highway went through. The land around Camp Coldwater spring though was eventually placed into the Park Service's hands in the year 2010. The Park service looked at an ethnographic study done in 2006 (also cited in this book on page 216) that found that the land should be a Traditional Cultural Property. But what the book doesn't tell you is that on page 79 of the ethnographic study, it says; "It is also asserted by Dakota elders that Coldwater Spring is the type of spring that would have been used in prehistory as a source of water for ceremonies by the Dakota occupants of the Mdote area, including the occupants of Ti Tanka Tanina, the "old village," and it is currently being used by members of federally recognized Dakota and Ojibwe communities, and other Dakota and Ojibwe individuals, as a source of water for historically rooted ceremonies."

Since the study failed to mention the 7 large flowing springs between that village and Coldwater, and that the soldiers were all over "Camp Coldwater" using it as the base to build Fort Snelling, it brings to question, is or is not Coldwater the actual spring originally used, or is it "the type of spring"?

Though the book goes into detail of Dakota language, it doesn"t tell you things like the name "Camp Coldwater" is what the spring area was called by soldiers who had just arrived there after previously being stationed at "Coldwater Creek" north of St. Louis. The name "Mni Owe Sni" is the direct translation of the English "Coldwater Spring" to Dakota, not Dakota to English. There is no known name for Coldwater spring, prior to 1820.

The park service being the new caretakers of the area, consulted with several tribes through the year 2012, but there is a disagreement even between the tribes of what this area is. For example, one Dakota tribe officially declared it Sacred for them during the studies, other Dakota tribes didn't. So the spring has different meanings to different tribes.

The authors of this book describe the park service's words as "Condescending". It is not clear if it is because of the park service's position, not even on Dakota beliefs since they have no say on the Sacred Site designation- but on Coldwater spring being a contemporary culturally significant site (since Indian use after 1998), but not a traditional cultural property. Or if it is both of those positions, or even if it is because not all Dakota agree with the authors position, and the park service dared to listen to the other Dakotas as well.

This shouldn't even be controversial, given the story on page 218 of this book. The story relates how a cave with a spring in Manitoba, was substituted for Carver's Cave in St. Paul. It's is specifically stated, that the behavior- the belief, that's what is important, more than the physical place. It even goes on to say on page 220, that not all springs were viewed as the same, but the book does not go into hardly any of the details.

In my opinion, to each their own, especially since the property ended up as a park open to everyone...but if you're going to literally write a book on a groups beliefs and traditions, and you want to bring in this particular story, it should at least include both sides of the story.

As is, the book presents one half of one side, if you're inclined to think of "the Dakota" as a single monolithic group, rather than the tribes that they really are, verses that other single monolithic group- "Europeans".

I would love to give this book more stars because some of the stories are fun and interesting to read, and I'm sure it took a lot of work to collect them. But I can't recommend this book when it doesn't state the whole story. By skipping the background context of the stories, it leaves the average reader without an understanding of what is even going on...regardless of one's personal opinions about it.
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VINE VOICEon January 15, 2016
The goal of this book is to unify oral tradition, archaeology, anthropology and history to tell the story of Minnesota’s Dakota people from the Dakota perspective. It succeeds at this task very well. It takes Dakota stories seriously, from before contact to the modern period. This requires some balancing acts among Dakota and non-Dakota sources, and modern and traditional Dakota people - all of which the authors navigate well.

The book could use a stronger editor’s hand in places, as the story jumps back and forth among events, people, and places. There is some duplication of material, and some other places where the text’s referent is unclear as the story moves along. These parts of the book are not confusing, but are an occasional minor distraction.

Some other reviewers point out that the book takes the perspective of a particular Dakota group, leaving out the different traditions of some other Dakota people, and failing to discuss non-Dakota such as the Ioway. Those all seem to be fair points to me based on the text here (I have no expertise either way). If those points are correct, you're best reading this book as a history of some/many but not all Dakota in the region.

Either way, this is well worth reading if you are interested in the Dakota people or the history of Mni Sota (Minnesota).
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on December 29, 2012
i think anyone interested in the 1862 war or the Dakota in general should buy this book.
i was surprised to learn that Rev. Riggs didnot translate the part of the 1851 treaty which said they were only going to receive the interest and 50 million would revert back to the treasury in 50 years.
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on February 9, 2015
I found it to be disjointed at best.
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on October 4, 2012
With all the books and articles coming out this year about the U.S.-Dakota War, it's refreshing to finally see one that's been done--and done very well--by a Dakota scholar. Bruce White is well-known for his writings on American Indians, and he and Gwen Westerman combined to produce a book remarkable for its emphasis on tying history to the land. This will be a valuable book for teachers and students of American Indian and Minnesota history, but it's equally interesting for general readers. A very enjoyable read!!
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on December 14, 2012
MNI SOTA MAKOCE is an historic history.

Together with a host of contributors--including Glenn Wasicuna, Syd Beane, Erin Griffin, Thomas G. Shaw, Kate Beane and Howard Vogel--the co-authors Gwen Westerman and Bruce White have composed a story that is told from many points of view. A new genre of scholarship, it is simultaneously history, geography, visual art and literature.

A model of collaborative scholarship, the book is like a quilt.

"The more forms our stories take," Westerman says, "the more people are going to see and hear and understand them."

I strongly recommend this book. Reading it has changed the way I think about history and look at my home in Minnesota.
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on August 18, 2015
As a longtime Minnesotan, there was much here that I did not know about our state's history, and especially the dominant pre-European presence of the Dakota. I'm giving the book 4 stars for content and thoroughness, but unfortunately I often found the reading to be dry and laborious.
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on October 31, 2012
I am a teacher and used Mni Sota Makoce with my class this fall. I found that my students both enjoyed and were appropriately challenged by this book. I am so grateful to the authors for their years of work on this project that brings Dakota connections to the land to light. Many readers who are unlikely to have easy access to Dakota elders or to search the archival sources themselves will benefit from the work of the authors. The authors of Mni Sota Makoce have brought together the oral tradition and written records to create a nuanced picture of Minnesota as a Dakota place. This book is a wonderful resource.
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