Restoration of Ancestral Land to Dakota Tribe Marks Historic Step in Minnesota

by Gabriel Martinez
Land Transfer to Dakota Tribe

The expansive fields and meandering rivers that characterize a Minnesota state park serve not only as scenic vistas but also as unmarked graves for Dakota individuals who perished when the United States did not honor its treaties with Native Americans over a century ago. The land is now being returned to their descendants.

Minnesota is taking the unprecedented action of transferring ownership of the historically burdened park back to a Dakota tribe as a form of reparations for past injustices, which instigated a conflict leading to the largest mass execution in American history.

Kevin Jensvold, the chairman of the Upper Sioux Community, a tribe with approximately 550 members situated near the park, described the area as a “site of devastation,” noting that their ancestors starved due to withheld provisions by federal officers.

The Upper Sioux Agency State Park in southwestern Minnesota covers an area slightly larger than two square miles and contains the remnants of a federal installation where essential supplies were denied to the Dakota community, resulting in starvation and subsequent deaths.

Historical context reveals that unresolved tensions culminated in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, as reported by the Minnesota Historical Society. Following the U.S. victory, the largest execution in American history took place. A monument stands in memory of the 38 Dakota men executed in Mankato, located 110 miles away from the park.

Jensvold has spent nearly two decades petitioning for the return of the park to his tribe. His efforts intensified when he learned from a tribal elder that fees were being charged to the Dakota people for visiting their ancestral graves on the site.

The authorization for the land transfer occurred this year, marking a significant political shift as Democrats took control of the legislative and executive branches in the state for the first time in nearly ten years, according to state Sen. Mary Kunesh, who is also a descendant of the Standing Rock Nation.

Public discourse on the injustices faced by tribes has grown, making more people cognizant of the often-violated treaties and illegally seized lands, Kunesh remarked. However, Mayor Dave Smiglewski of nearby Granite Falls expressed concern about the economic ramifications of the transfer, which would result in fewer tourists.

The park features a range of outdoor amenities, including hiking trails, campsites, and fishing spots, and is populated by diverse flora. Smiglewski cautioned against hasty decisions that could set precedents affecting other state parks with sacred Indigenous ties.

Recent developments have seen some tribal communities in the United States, Canada, and Australia reclaim their ancestral lands due to the burgeoning Land Back movement. Although no national park has ever been fully transferred to a tribal nation in the United States, some are co-managed, such as Grand Portage National Monument in Minnesota.

This land transfer, embedded in various expansive legislative bills, earmarks over $6 million for a projected completion by 2033. These funds are designated for land acquisition with recreational potential as well as for appraisals and engineering works.

Republican legislators representing the area surrounding the park refrained from commenting, but they voted against a pivotal bill allocating $5 million towards the transfer, which passed with substantial Democratic support.

Jensvold acknowledged the rarity of such tribal victories in land disputes but expressed a sense of accomplishment. “It may have seemed an insurmountable task, but we’ve achieved it,” he stated.

The article was written by Trisha Ahmed, a journalist for the Big Big News/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative, a non-profit that stations journalists in local newsrooms to cover underreported issues. Follow her on the platform formerly known as Twitter: @TrishaAhmed15.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Land Transfer to Dakota Tribe

What is the significance of Minnesota transferring a state park to the Dakota Tribe?

The transfer of the Upper Sioux Agency State Park in southwestern Minnesota to the Dakota tribe represents an unprecedented action aimed at reparations for historical injustices. The land contains unmarked graves of Dakota people who died due to the United States’ failure to honor its treaties more than a century ago. This move signifies a government attempt to redress past wrongs committed against Native Americans.

Who is Kevin Jensvold and what role does he play in this issue?

Kevin Jensvold is the chairman of the Upper Sioux Community, a tribe with approximately 550 members situated near the park. He has spent nearly two decades petitioning the state to return the park, which contains the graves of his ancestors, back to his tribe.

What led to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862?

The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 was the result of years of tension and broken treaties between settler-colonists and a faction of the Dakota people. The war culminated in the largest mass execution in American history, where 38 Dakota men were hanged.

How was the land transfer authorized?

The land transfer was authorized through legislative action when Democrats took control of the Minnesota House, Senate, and governor’s office for the first time in nearly a decade. A bill was passed allocating more than $6 million to facilitate the transfer by 2033.

What are the economic implications for the nearby town of Granite Falls?

The Mayor of Granite Falls, Dave Smiglewski, expressed concerns that the land transfer could lead to fewer tourists, thereby affecting the local economy. He argued that state parks should remain publicly owned to benefit a larger population.

What is the Land Back movement?

The Land Back movement is a growing initiative in the United States, Canada, and Australia that seeks to return lands to Indigenous people. While no national park has ever been fully transferred to a tribal nation in the U.S., some are co-managed, such as Grand Portage National Monument in Minnesota.

What are the political ramifications of this transfer?

The political ramifications are significant as the decision to transfer the land was authorized when Democrats took control of all branches of the state government. The move has gained broad support from Democratic lawmakers, while Republican legislators voted against key bills related to the transfer.

What will the allocated funds be used for?

The allocated funds of over $6 million will be used to acquire land with recreational opportunities, and to pay for appraisals, road and bridge demolition, and other engineering works, with the transfer expected to be completed by 2033.

More about Land Transfer to Dakota Tribe

  • Minnesota Historical Society: U.S.-Dakota War of 1862
  • The Land Back Movement: An Overview
  • Legislative Action in Minnesota: Recent Bills and Allocations
  • Upper Sioux Community: Official Website
  • Report for America: About the Organization
  • National Park Service: Co-Managed Parks with Tribal Nations
  • Department of Natural Resources: Minnesota State Parks and Trails
  • Standing Rock Nation: Historical Background

You may also like


JohnDoe45 September 3, 2023 - 8:40 am

Wow, can’t believe its taken so long for something like this to happen. its about time the govt started making amends, you know?

EmilyNatureLover September 3, 2023 - 10:52 am

The park has such natural beauty with hiking trails and all. Hope the Dakota tribe will keep it that way for others to enjoy too.

HistoryBuff92 September 3, 2023 - 1:06 pm

The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 has such a dark history. Good to see some justice after all these years, even if it’s just a small step.

PoliticalPaul September 3, 2023 - 3:10 pm

Dems taking control and making big changes, huh? Not surprised, but also kinda surprised Republicans didn’t say anything. Or did they?

Mike_in_Finance September 3, 2023 - 8:43 pm

So they’re allocating $6 million for this? Wonder where that money’s coming from. Taxes, I bet.

Sara_Insights September 3, 2023 - 11:42 pm

I’m really torn here. On one hand, the land transfer feels like the right thing to do, morally. On the other, what about the local economy. tough call!

CryptoTom September 4, 2023 - 1:12 am

Land back movement is gaining momentum. This could be a blueprint for other states and maybe even countries.


Leave a Comment

BNB – Big Big News is a news portal that offers the latest news from around the world. BNB – Big Big News focuses on providing readers with the most up-to-date information from the U.S. and abroad, covering a wide range of topics, including politics, sports, entertainment, business, health, and more.

Editors' Picks

Latest News