Regaining The Dakota’s Wild Rice Grounds

Written by Thomas Dahlheimer

On August 5th, 2009 the following letter to the editor was published in the Mille Lacs Messenger. 

Restore Ogechie Lake 

I support the effort to restore Ogechie Lake. I am working to influence the U.S. government and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe to give Ogechie Lake back to the Dakota Indians in a restored condition.

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In a column published in last week’s Messenger, titled, Restoring Ogechie Lake, Curt Kalk, the Commissioner of Natural Resources for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians, wrote: “Mille Lacs Band members had harvested wild rice on this lake for generations, long before settlers arrived.”

In the column, Mr. Kalk failed to mention that before the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe used the white settlers’ gun power bombs to violently force the Dakota Indians from their Ogechie Lake and surrounding area, the Dakota Indians had harvested wild rice on this lake for several hundred years.

In 1656, the Dakotas were living near Mille Lacs in five villages numbering about 5,000 people. One of these villages was on Ogechie Lake.

On Leonard Wabasha’s Mille Lacs Kathio State Park interpretive sign, located on the south shore of Ogechie Lake, there is a picture of Mr. Wabasha overlooking Ogechie Lake. On the sign, Wabasha is quoted as saying: “My people are the Mdewakanton Oyate. Mdewakanton means the People of Spirit Lake. Today that lake is known as Mille Lacs. This landscape is sacred to the Mdewakanton Oyate because one Otokaheys Woyakapi (creation story) says we were created here. It is especially pleasing for me to come here and walk these trails, because about 1718 the first Chief Wapahasa was born here, at the headwaters of the Spirit River. I am the eighth in this line of hereditary chiefs.” In the quote, Wabasha referred to the badly named Rum River as “Spirit River” and he also referred to his Dakota band as the “Mdewakanton Oyate.”

LeMoine LaPointe, director of the Healthy Nations Program at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, is quoted in a 2008 Isanti County News article: “The Rum, known for centuries as Wakan Wakpa (Holy River), is an important spiritual and cultural artery to the Dakota who, until 1745, lived at Mille Lacs (Mde Wakan) and considered it the center of their world.” LaPointe was also quoted as saying: “Reclaiming the Rum River is important to the health of the Dakota community.”

In a recorded radio broadcast, Waziyatawin (Angela Wilson), historian and a leading Minnesota Dakota Indian activist, says that she hopes that her Dakota people will regain some of their traditional and ancestral Mille Lacs homeland wild rice grounds.