From Bead Work to Bdote: Students Recall Fort Snelling Experience

April 16, 2014

On April 9th and 10th, forty-five sophomores and ten juniors and seniors had the opportunity to visit Fort Snelling State Park on a two day seminar to learn more about American Indian history, language, and culture in Minnesota. The students were taught by Glenn Wasicuna, one of the few remaining native Dakota speakers in the world, Dr. Gwen Westerman, current professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato who is also a poet and author of  “Mni Sota Makoce: Land of the Dakota”, Julie Kastigar Boada, a nationally known Anishinaabe artist and puppeteer, and some of the state park’s rangers.

Students had the option to attend the seminar. “I wanted to learn the culture. Reading about it is one thing, but experiencing it is a completely different thing,” said sophomore Sophie Dupont.

Both days were structured with an introduction activity, three fifty minute teaching sessions, and a nature walk through historic parts of the park.

During the sessions, Wasicuna taught the alphabet of the Dakota language, proper pronunciations, and greetings. “It’s not just a language, it has a deeper meaning and you can tell how passionate they, [Westerman and Wasicuna], are about it,” said sophomore Josie Wilde.

Dr. Westerman taught a section on poetry and shared some of her published pieces. Students were asked to sit in five minutes of silence and experience what was going on around them. They then had the opportunity to create personal poems and present them to their small groups.

It’s not just a language, it has a deeper meaning”

— Josie Wilde

Kastigar Boada then taught the some of the history of the Anishinaabe in Minnesota and explained how she was never raised to be proud of her Anishinaabe culture and the impact that has had on her life. Because of her art background, Kastigar Boada also taught students bead work. Students were able to create leather journals with beaded covers. “I thought it was really nice to see the Dakota culture: their art, the poetry, the language itself, their background, and what their ideals are,” said sophomore Isabella Swanson.

Park rangers guided the nature walk, where students were able to see the land that the Dakota people call home. Also referred to as Bdote, the converging of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers is where the Dakota people began. The students were able to stand on the shore near this creation spot and marvel at its history and beauty.

“I’ve learned how the stages of development that our society has gone through have affected what is left of just nature… We are here in this national park, but it’s located under a bridge… there are birds, but there are also planes,” said sophomore Nathan Shapiro.

“I was hesitant at first. I originally came just because I wanted to see what it would be like. I wasn’t expecting it to be super fun or anything to be honest… it was really fun and I would definitely recommend it [to the incoming sophomores]” said Wilde.

The trip was free to students and funded by an art grant from the State. Students left with a knowledge that could not have been gained in a classroom.

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