Waziyatawin (Angela Wilson), Ph.D., a Dakota scholar and activist, and the Minnesota Humanities Center in Saint Paul have collaborated to create Responses to Statehood, an online video project that showcases Dakota and Ojibwe perspectives on Minnesota statehood and the sesquicentennial. The project began airing in November when the Humanities Center began launching new videos weekly. New videos will be uploaded through December.
Waziyatawin (Wahpetunwan Dakota) hosts each chapter, providing video commentary on such topics as: the forced removal, ethnic cleansing and genocide, boarding schools, allotment, and the seizure of Native lands. All videos and support material can be found under “Special Projects” on the center’s main website. Several introductory videos guide viewers into the larger presentation.
The first video explains the connection between the Humanities Center and Minnesota statehood. Stanley Romanstein, President and CEO, says the humanities encourage people to examine complex issues like the sesquicentennial from interconnected specialties such as philosophy, history, ethics, culture, and civics.
Waziyatawin then provides Dakota and English greetings before discussing the Dakota creation story and its profound connection to the geography of the Twin Cities area. She also presents her values assumptions: genocide is a crime against humanity, might is not right, white is not right, and a good society is a just society.
From there, the “Statehood Video Library” links to several Native introductions and the topic chapters. As support material, the “Statehood Resources Library” provides links to a variety of articles, and “Statehood Voices” describes the many Native people who have contributed to the project, such as Joe Bendickson, Neil Cantemaza McKay, and Lillian Rice. Support material also includes a list of questions to consider.
“My goal with the Responses to Statehood project is to bring in critical perspectives you won’t find anywhere in the mainstream,” said Waziyatawin. “These are perspectives ignored by the Sesquicentennial Commission, mainstream media, and textbooks.”
The project began as an outgrowth of the Humanity Center’s ongoing teacher-training workshops that present Dakota and Ojibwe perspectives. The workshops received positive feedback, spurring the center to seek other ways to share with a broader audience.
“We have worked with state teachers for over eight years under the philosophy that all speakers, presenters, and planners of workshops will be from the Dakota or Ojibwe community,” said Matthew Brandt, Vice President of the Humanities Center. “This has made for powerful and life-changing experiences for those who attend.”
After learning of the Sesquicentennial Commission’s limited opportunities for Native perspectives, the center hired Mona Smith (Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota) to film some of the teacher-training workshops. The project eventually expanded to include interviews with Native people from throughout the state. Smith is currently producing the online videos. She is a filmmaker and co-founder of Allies: media/art, an award-winning, Dakota-owned media production company.
“The work I do is focused on expanding the listening range of Native, and especially Dakota, voices,” she said. “So I was happy to produce the video for the site. Being part of providing resources from Native points of view for teachers and learners is an honor.”
Smith interpreted Waziyatawin’s presentation for a web-based format by breaking it into small pieces and illustrating the resulting sections in a way that was true to the speaker and compelling to the viewer.
The Humanities Center says it is committed to this project for the long run, beyond the sesquicentennial. It has enlarged the scope of outreach beyond state teachers to attract viewers from as many regions and backgrounds as possible. A blog was also added to allow community members a space to comment.
The collaboration between Waziyatawin and the Humanities Center has its roots in a spring 2007 meeting with the Sesquicentennial Commission. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Commission Director Jane Leonard invited Dr. Waziyatawin and Matthew Brandt to a meeting with other community members.
The commission said it wanted to get the Dakota perspective on the sesquicentennial. Waziyatawin presented her ideas, assuming the commission members would change their plans and include Native points of view. However, she says the members ignored her after the meeting. One man even asked another member about playing golf. “I had just finished giving a presentation about genocide and land theft,” she said, “and he was talking about golf.”
After the meeting, Brandt asked to speak with Waziyatawin and said the Humanities Center wanted to provide opportunities to share Dakota and Ojibwe perspectives.
“They are essential if Minnesotans are going to truly understand the history, culture, and living experience of Native people in the state,” said Brandt. “The videos highlight many untold aspects of our state history from uncompromising, indigenous points of view. We are hopeful people will leave with a desire to learn more, even if the material might be difficult to listen to.”
In addition to the teacher workshops and web videos, Waziyatawin has also written a book, What Does Justice Look Like. It examines the price the Dakota paid for Minnesota statehood and the possibility of embarking on a path of transformation to respectful coexistence.
To see the videos and blog, go to: www.minnesotahumanities.org.