Connecting with the land
When John Stoesz told his mother he wanted to do something to raise awareness about land recovery for the Dakota people, he said she reacted like many people have along his journey — “they deserve it, but it isn’t going to happen.”
Stoesz wants to tell people it can happen, and they can help. He has traveled about 1,500 miles on his three-wheeled bike throughout southern Minnesota to let people know about efforts to return some Minnesota land to the native Dakota people.
The Dakota were killed or forced out of their homeland during white settlement, Stoesz said, and he is riding to let people know about the work of a nonprofit called Oyate Nipi Kte (The People Shall Live).
“I thought I would combine my love of riding bike with my interest in raising awareness,” he said.
The group wants to establish a land base where Dakota people can establish new communities and resume traditional practices, spirituality and language.
“Oyate Nipi Kte is committed to restoring a land base for Dakota people … so that we may begin to bring some of our relatives home, re-establish our spiritual and physical relationship with our homeland and ensure the ongoing existence of our people,” the organization says.
The effort has also been a way for Stoesz to reconnect with Minnesota, his home state, and he said he has enjoyed the scenery, wildlife and weather throughout the ride. He now lives in Kansas with his wife, but returned to his hometown of Mountain Lake to start the trip in early September.
Stoesz will wrap up his 40-county cycling ride Nov. 1, weather permitting. Red Wing was the 31st county seat stop on the journey.
Stoesz is not Dakota, but has had some experiences that led him to the land recovery efforts, he said.
He was executive director of Mennonite Central Committee Central States, a relief, development and peace organization. That’s where he started working on issues facing native people, he said.
His family also sold his grandfather’s farm near Mountain Lake last fall, which was originally Dakota territory. He said he felt he should share some of his benefit from the land sale with the Dakota people.
Stoesz said many people feel a connection to the land, especially where their homes are.
“But I think that for the Dakota people … the connection goes deeper,” he said, and that’s why many want to return to their homelands.
Visit www.oyatenipikte.org for more information on Dakota land recovery efforts and the Oyate Nipi Kte organization.