Fort Renville: Stories and Reflections




Fort Renville

Patricia Emerson: “The actual location of Fort Renville had pretty much been destroyed because of the dam that creates Lac qui Parle.”

Narrator: Fort Renville, a trading post named for the influential French-Dakota trader Joseph Renville, was a gathering place for many cultures. This place is still a reminder of the fur trade culture that once existed in Minnesota.

Dakota Lifeways that existed in Minnesota before European Contact

Peter Lengkeek: “We had a very powerful connection with ‘unci maka,’ grandmother earth. My ancestors were extremely resourceful, very hard-working. You had to be, to live out here and thrive and survive the way we did.”

Narrator: Before European contact, the Dakota lived and worked according to age-old values and traditions.

Dale Weston: “They knew how to keep things over the winter; to dry fish or dry deer, or whatever. But they didn’t do it individually It was for the community.”

Narrator: The Dakota lived according to the seasons, thriving on the land’s resources.

Gabrielle Tateyuskanskan: “Most people think, when they think of Dakota people or Sioux people they think of the buffalo being the main diet. But they netted fish and they dried fish and saved it for the winter. They harvested wild rice, they harvested maple sugar.”

Grace Goldtooth: “We knew how to use what we had here on mother earth, on ‘maka ina’.”

Dakota Connection to water, both Physically and Spiritually

Dale Weston: “The Dakota, wherever they had to go they used the river as the fastest way of getting around. The rivers were used like highways in those days.”

Narrator: The Dakota expertly navigated the regions riverways for trade and family connections.

Gabrielle Tateyuskanskan: “They traveled to Minneapolis, you can travel along that river to Lake Traverse.”

Dale Weston: “You’d have Dakota people that would be going down the river and taking that branch that way, or taking that branch that way.”

Gabrielle Tateyuskanskan: “You can head to Canada and Dakota people followed that river way all the way to the Hudson Bay and knew about the arctic.”

Dale Weston: “They weren’t just confined to little geographical boundaries. They moved around and they intermarried with different tribes over hundreds of years.”

Narrator: For the Dakota, water is not only a means of transport, but holds spiritual significance as well.

Peter Lengkeek: “Water- we know it as the first medicine. We say ‘mni wichoni,’ water is life. Our very origin story itself comes from the water.”

Narrator: Today, many Dakota see Minnesota’s waterways as an element that needs healing.

Gabrielle Tateyuskanskan: “You can just see how dirty that Minnesota River has been allowed to become. We do have the story and the connection to place, and the spiritual understanding about why we shouldn’t do those things. Society can benefit from the knowledge that Dakota people have as knowing their ancient homeland very well.”

How Life Changed for the Dakota with the Arrival of the Fur Trade

Narrator: Using the river as transportation, European fur traders flowed into Minnesota beginning in the late 1600s. They traded global goods to American Indians for furs.

Tamara St John: “They came in and lived amongst the people and it wasn’t such a controversy. They just became a people along with them. They became a part of the life of the Dakota.”

Narrator: Marriages between Dakota and Europeans created a cultural melting pot.

William Beane: “Our family might be a little more unique than some of the other families here because of our Dakota and white ancestry. We are descended from fur traders. We are descended from military men that were at Fort Snelling. So there is this interaction of all of these people in Minnesota.”

Narrator: For 200 years, the fur trade existed in relative peace until traders starting taking advantage of Native relationships.

Sid Bird: “The fat is called wasin. Wasicu – takers of fat. That’s what they called the white man. That was the first encounter with the European fur traders. They controlled the trade. Indians depended on the traders for food and clothing.”

Narrator: The fur trade marked the beginning of the end of traditional Dakota lifeways. As more settlers came to the area, the more the Dakota had to lose.

Dale Weston: “The traders came in and they would want to make a deal: ‘Oh, we want this little island over here; it’s worth nothing. We’ll give you some guns, or some of these goods, clothes or whatever, for this little piece right here.’ And then a lot of times when treaties were signed, a lot of important families were probably doing something else - they might have been ricing, they might have been buffalo hunting. And then they’d come back and they’d discover that some deal had happened.”