Upper Sioux Agency: Stories and Reflections




Upper Sioux Agency

Shara Siyaka reading: ‘Pejuhutazizik'api,’ or, ‘the place where they dig for yellow medicine,’ land of the Sisseton and Wapeton bands. Dakota land for thousands of years.

Narrator: The Upper Sioux, or Yellow Medicine Agency, was built by the U.S. government after the Treaty of 1851, establishing a new Dakota reservation along the Minnesota River. It was an early site in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. It still remains a center for Dakota culture and heritage.

Enduring Strength of the Dakota

Narrator: After centuries of sustaining a seasonal nomadic lifestyle, many in the Upper Sioux community turned to farming in order to adapt to reservation life.

Elden Lawrence: “There were up to 200 different so called ‘friendly’ Indian families trying to farm at that time, which is pretty good. So it was an up-and-coming community. A lot of good things might have happened there, if it hadn’t been for that outbreak.”

Narrator: But following the war of 1862, the Dakota were exiled from Minnesota, fracturing their extended family.

Lavonne Swenson: “Families were torn apart and I just wonder how my relatives made it through all of that.”

Clifford Canku: “We don’t know what happened to them as they scattered many different directions.”

Narrator: While exiled and fractured geographically, deep ancestral ties have ultimately shown the enduring strength of the Dakota.

Clifford Canku: “If you know your history, your language, your DNA, then you're proud of who you are. Our roots are still very much deeply embedded in our Dakota way of life.”

Sandee Geshick: “In every tragedy you look for that lesson to be learned. We are a peaceful people and very resilient. We bounce back from anything.”

Lasting Dakota Values

Shara Siyaka reading: The word ‘Tiyospaye’ in Dakota has a much broader meaning than just the direct translation of extended family or circle of relatives. ‘Tiyospaye’ goes deeper than that.

Lenor A. Scheffler reading excerpt from Speaking of Indians, by Ella Deloria: The ultimate aim of Dakota life, stripped of accessories, was quite simple: One must obey kinship rules; one must be a good relative...every other consideration was secondary - property, personal ambition, glory, good times, life itself.

Dallas Ross: “Dakota is not a nation of people. Dakota is a way of life, a manner in which you walk through this world, ‘Dako wi choka ki eposukta.’ The Dakota way of life gives you direction. Many questions come up - the Dakota culture, Dakota spirituality or religion. In truth, there is no separation. You cannot be a Dakota without them both being together.”

Walter LaBatte: “In the Dakota way, we have what’s called ‘mdakway oyasin,’ which means all our relatives. Everything that God created is a relative of ours.”

Byron White: “If you’re Dakota and you’re Indian, how they all worked together, how they all stuck together no matter what. That’s something I’ve always tried to follow.”

Elden Lawrence: “I knew very little about the history and I was told very little about the culture, but the most tragic of it was that I was never told anything about my ancestors. And that about cuts you off from everything, because your ancestor is the thing that solidifies everything.”