FORT TOTTEN – Cankdeska Cikana Community College (CCCC) announces the release of its new publication, Mniwakan: Place Names and History of Spirit Lake Dakota, a tribute to the traditional language and oral history of the Spirit Lake Tribe. To celebrate the book’s release, the Tribal College will be giving away signed copies at the annual alumni gathering on July 21, which is open to the public.
Mniwakan– meaning Spirit Lake – complements oral tradition with contemporary American history to tell a full and honest perspective of the Dakota experience. The book includes 25 chapters in a collection of stories that includes nearly a hundred significant places and landmarks based on decades of research by co-authors, Louis Garcia and Mark Dietrich.
“The Dakota language is shrinking very rapidly,” Garcia said. “We only have a few language speakers, most of whom are elders. We need to preserve the language and knowledge of places that the tribe considers important, not only for our future generations, but also for educating non-Dakota on the history of the earth.
At 82, Garcia is a middle school Dakota Studies teacher and a Spirit Lake Nation tribal historian. Since 1978, he has documented the oral history and traditional knowledge of the tribe primarily by listening to and interviewing tribal elders.
“For over 30 years I have been collecting place names in the Dakota language,” Garcia said. “I selected all of these sites around Spirit Lake, inside and outside the reserve, and Mark helped me clarify my writing and research additional information about each of these places. what I have recorded are the Indian names, so that they will not be lost, and all the information that I have been able to obtain from the elders with whom I have spoken.”
Spirit Lake Heritage Research
Dietrich has written several books on Dakota history and chiefs. He is the author of the published CCCC Mni Wakan Oyate (Spirit Lake Nation): A History of the Sisituwan, Wahpeton, Pabaksa, and Other Dakota Who Settled Spirit Lake, North Dakota in 2007 and Lake Spirit Dakota Grass Dance with Garcia in 2014.
“Louis had spent a lot of time gathering information to the degree that no one else has, but it was skeletal,” Dietrich explained. “I filled in the blanks about what had happened at those places. I found myself wanting to know the history of Fort Totten, how the soldiers used it, how the reserve developed around it , how the Dakota was connected to the presence of the soldiers and the whole situation.”
Although Dietrich is not a member of any Indigenous group, his research has contributed immensely to the historical relevance of the Dakota people. He says that the history of Spirit Lake is generally misinterpreted and distorted by the anti-Indian sentiments of early American newspapers, settlers and historians.
“I’ve done quite a bit of research on the Spirit Lake Tribe, especially with newspapers, even though historians say they’re unreliable, biased and racist in tone,” Dietrich said. “But I find the newspapers provide a lot of concrete information that you can’t get anywhere else. One of the chapters in the book is about the body of water the white people called ‘Devil’s Lake,’ but Dakota still has it. called ‘Spirit Water’.’ or Spirit Lake.’
Preserving Dakota’s History and Culture
The work of Garcia and Dietrich on Mniwakan and CCCC’s other two publications might never have seen the light of day without the vision and leadership of the college’s president, Dr. Cynthia Lindquist. She is a member of the Spirit Lake Tribe and her name Dakota is Ta’sunka Wicahpi Winyan or Star Horse Woman.
“I have a responsibility to our people, especially to the children,” Lindquist said. “I want to set an example of being a good parent and do what I can to protect and maintain our traditional language and oral history. This includes written manuals. This job requires everyone to contribute what they can, such as Louis Garcia and Mark Dietrich did it. Finished.”
Since becoming president in 2003, Lindquist has led the growth and development of the institution, providing greater access to a college education and improving the quality of life for tribal members. Few Indigenous leaders have accepted the responsibility of preserving their histories and cultures for future generations to the extent that she has.
“For more than a century, colonization, suppression and assimilation efforts have attempted to rob the Dakota people of their Indigenous identity,” Lindquist said. “But the survival of our people and our culture is a testament to the resilience and strength of Dakota identity. Through higher education, people can learn and thereby strengthen their pride in being Dakota.”
Like 35 other tribal colleges and universities across the country, CCCC strives to maintain and revitalize Indigenous culture and language. For Lindquist, books about Dakota language, culture and history are small steps in the right direction. She says the college is trying to do more and training Dakota instructors is a top priority.
“Without skilled Indigenous instructors, we cannot develop relevant academic programs or community education venues,” she said. “That’s why we seek to integrate Dakota culture and language into all academic areas, such as advanced manufacturing, business management, social work, carpentry and early CCCC truly believes and tries to bring into practice his theme, Think Dakota, live Dakota.
For more information about Cankdeska Cikana Community College and the upcoming book release celebration, visit www.littlehoop.edu.