Minnesota American Indians

By Explore Minnesota

Leech Lake sunset boatThe name Minnesota comes from the Dakota (Sioux) words mnisota meaning "sky-tinted waters" or "sky-blue waters." There are numerous Indian origin place names throughout the state many beginning with mni or minne meaning water. For example, Minneapolis is a hybrid of minne and "polis", the Greek word for city, i.e. city of water or "City of Lakes."

Minnesota's recorded history begins at Jeffers Petroglyphs Historic Site in the southwest corner of the state where American Indians for thousands of years have traced life stories in rock carvings. Additional petroglyphs can be found in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota. Within the BWCAW are hundreds of these petroglyphs and pictographs on rock ledges and cliffs. The BWCAW is part of the historic homeland of the Ojibwe (Chippewa) people, who traveled the waterways in birch bark canoes. Prior to Ojibwe settlement, the area was sparsely populated by the Dakota who dispersed westward and southward following the arrival of the Ojibwe.

Dakota and Ojibwe cultures arise from an intimate knowledge of place, from personal, local connections among people and the natural world. Ojibwe and Dakota languages, family, political structure and spirituality arose from and were shaped by the landscape.In Minnesota, there are seven Anishinaabe (Chippewa or Ojibwe) reservations and four Dakota (Sioux) communities. A reservation or community is a segment of land that belongs to one or more groups of American Indians. It is not land that was given to American Indians by the federal government. It is land that was retained by American Indian tribes after ceding large portions of the original homelands to the United States through treaty agreements.

s15 Southern PipestoneNear Jeffers Petroglyphs is the "Crossroads of the Indian World," at The Great Pipestone Quarries now the Pipestone National Monument. The Pipestone quarries of Minnesota have been a sacred site for American Indian Tribal people for over 1,000 years. Many nations of Indian people came to these quarries as the pipestone was a very precious trade item throughout the Tribal Nations - from Hudson Bay, Canada to the Anazazi and Aztec of Mexico. As a result the Pipestone region became the major crossroads for trade in the Americas. Today pipestone articles are sold by the Pipestone Indian Shrine Association, which runs the gift shop at the Monument, and The Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers in the town of Pipestone. Both are owned and operated by Native Americans.

Grand Portage National MonumentNot far from the BWCAW in northeastern Minnesota is the Grand Portage National Monument. The large complex of buildings originally built by the British Northwest Company in the late 1700s was reconstructed to allow celebration of the fur trade and Ojibwe way of life. The portage trail itself has also been separately designated a Minnesota State Historic Site. As early as 2,000 years ago, Indian Nations used Gichi-onigaming, or "the great carrying place", to travel from summer homes on Lake Superior to winter hunting grounds in the interior of Minnesota and Ontario. The Grand Portage trail is an 8.5-mile (13.7 km) portage around the High Falls on the Pigeon River which forms the border between Minnesota and Ontario, Canada. Voyageurs from the interior of Canada would carry their furs by canoe down river to Grand Portage.

Wild rice:Harvesting Wild Rice
From time immemorial, "manoomin" (Ojibwe for the good berry or wild rice) has played an important role in the lives of Minnesota's Dakota and Ojibwe Indians, who harvest the grain from canoes according to ancient traditions. Packets of this delicious, hearty grain (which is actually a water-grass seed rather than a true rice) are available in shops all over Minnesota. It is the official state grain.

Pow Wows:
Numerous Pow Wows and other cultural events sponsored by various tribes and bands take place on Indian land throughout the year and are open the public. The term pow wow is a Europeanization of the Indian word "pau-wau" which originally stood for a healing ceremony conducted by the spiritual or religious leaders of various tribes. Pow WowMany Indian tribes utilized the practice of the pow wow and added their own traditions. Indians held these ceremonies to celebrate a successful hunt and to thank the spirits for a bountiful harvest. Pow wows also spiritually prepared a warrior for an impending battle. Native Americans viewed life and death as an inevitable circle. Some of the pow wow ceremonies they conducted celebrated this circle with tribal drums, dancing, food, chanting and traditional healing rituals. They acted out ancient stories handed down through the generations, which kept their history alive.

Today, the pow wow tradition has become a multi-tribal social event open to the public. In addition, some pow wows provide educational lessons of the Native American culture in a festival style with traditional dances as well as various religious ceremony re-enactments. In addition, one can find Native American arts and crafts as well as food items and other wares for sale.

In 1987 the US Supreme Court upheld the right of tribes as sovereign nations to conduct gaming on Indian lands free of state control. Minnesota tribes were the first in the nation to negotiate and sign gaming compacts with a state government. After nearly twenty years of Indian gaming, much progress has been made in Indian communities. Gaming revenues have helped Minnesota tribes fill the gaps left by chronically inadequate federal funding for health care, housing, education, human services and infrastructure needs. The casinos are central to Minnesota tourism and essential to Indian community revenue.