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The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community will grant $80,000 to the Three Rivers Park District to create signs along a west metro trail highlighting Dakota history and connections to natural resources.
The trail will be the first of its kind in the Three Rivers Park District, and is expected to open in the summer of 2024 at the Lowry Nature Center in the Carver Park Reserve. The center, located near Victoria, Minnesota, has a long history of teaching students about Dakota people and aims to enhance that with signs incorporating interactive components and guidance from an advisory group of Dakota people.
The grant was awarded through the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s Understand Native Minnesota philanthropic campaign, which seeks to reshape narratives about Native Americans in Minnesota’s K-12 schools. It’s the campaign’s first grant to the Three Rivers Park District, which manages 27,000 acres of park reserves, regional parks, trails, and special-use facilities in several Twin Cities suburban counties.
“When we heard the news, we were excited, and I would say somewhat nervous too,” said Allison Neaton, Lowry Nature Center’s outdoors education supervisor. “It’s an honor to be able to take on a project like this, but we want to make sure we do it respectfully and correctly, and with the right people.”
Planning for the interpretive trail is still in the early stages, she said. Lowry Nature Center staff are reaching out to Dakota people with knowledge on topics such as plant species and Dakota traditions to guide the project.
The signs will highlight natural resources and their connections to Dakota history and culture at seven locations along a trail, according to the tribe’s news release. The trail that will host the signs hasn’t been chosen yet, said Lauren Kitrell, an interpretive naturalist who teaches classes at the Lowry Nature Center.
Rebecca Crooks-Stratton, secretary-treasurer for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, said an interpretative trail will provide the “perfect opportunity” to teach children about the Dakota and their connections to the natural world. Crooks-Stratton also leads Understand Native Minnesota.
“The Lowry Nature Center interacts with school groups a lot, so they have a lot of children coming through, and to be able to have a supplemental venue other than the classroom to share some of this information, and change or enhance the narrative [it] is putting out there, I think was just a really great opportunity.”
Last year, Lowry Nature Center staffers taught 575 lessons to school groups representing about 15,000 students, teachers, and chaperones, Neaton said.
In the past, staff taught a curriculum centered on Dakota people and how they interact with the land. That curriculum has been paused as it undergoes revision and as the interpretive trail is developed.
“We have often felt that we were unsure we were doing it justice,” Neaton said, adding that the new venture will expand the staff’s knowledge and create new connections with the Dakota community.
An opportunity for all involved
Kitrell said the impetus for collaboration with Understand Native Minnesota arose more than two years ago when she came across one of its newsletters. She contacted the campaign through its website, sparking conversations with its staff about shared goals and collaboration.
When the grant opportunity opened up, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community reached out to the Three Rivers Park District to apply, Kitrell said.
“This is a region where the Dakota have been for hundreds of thousands of years, and we want to celebrate that,” she said. “And we want to remind people that the Dakota are still here, and that that connection to land endures.”