Dakota Elders Support Rematriation of Sacred Red Rock, In-Yan Sa, to Wakan Tipi

Wolfchild talks about In-Yan Sa.

In-Yan Sa, the sacred red rock of the Dakota people should be moved to Wakan Tipi (also known as Carver’s Cave), one of the Dakota people’s sacred sites, Dakota elders say.

Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota/Lower Sioux) has been leading Dakota efforts to “rematriate” the rock. (Rematriation because the rock is part of Mother Earth.) He visited Dakota elders in South Dakota and North Dakota to speak about the Red Rock and get their feedback. “This is an apolitical process,” Wolfchild said. “It is the elders who are in charge of our sacred sites and objects.”

The elders gave a positive response, and backed plans to move In-Yan Sa to Wakan Tipi.  Wolfchild announced the elders support at a meeting of Dakota elders and allies on Saturday at All My Relations Gallery.

In-Yan Sa used to reside near the Mississippi River near the Dakota village of Kaposia. United Methodist missionaries took the rock after the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862. The rock became a symbol of their church camps. The rock now sits outside Newport United Methodist Church, and calls have been growing from Dakota people for its return.

Bruce R. Ough, the Bishop for the United Methodist Church in Minnesota, agreed earlier this year to restore In-Yan Sa to the Dakota people. While that was a significant milestone, that commitment required serious conversation within both the Minnesota Annual Conference of the UMC and the Dakota community about next steps.

The elders have been in conversation with the Bishop since the announcement and are waiting for him to clear his busy schedule for June and July before announcing the return, Wolfchild said. He called this work “a sacred covenant” between the Dakota Spiritual Elders and the Methodist church. “No one can own In-Yan Sa but the Dakota people have the responsibility to take care and protect their sacred history and spiritual knowledge concerning sacred sites and objects.”

Placing In-Yan Sa at Wakan Tipi would move the sacred rock to a Dakota sacred site. Wakan Tipi is a traditional sacred meeting place. It had animal petroglyphs painted inside the cave (until railroad construction destroyed much of  it in the early 1900s.) The nonprofit group Lower Phalen Creek Project is trying to raise money for the Wakan Tipi Center, and is supports the idea of rematriating the rock there.

Sign next to In-Yan Sa in front of Newport United Methodist Church.

Speakers at Saturday’s event talked about how In-Yan sa and Wakan Tipi are both tied to the Dakota origin story. The discussion also covered the larger context of Native American genocide, boarding schools, and broken treaties.

Wolfchild said the Lower Sioux Elders as a group had their final ceremony with In-Yan Sa in 1918. “This is a process of healing,” he said. “How do we forgive the unforgivable?” At the same time, Woflchild noted the Dakota had other sacred rocks, but settlers destroyed them. The United Methodists preserved In-Yan Sa.

Wolfchild recalled the Longest Walk in 1978, a five-month march from San Fransisco to Washington D.C. to protest efforts to take away Indian lands. When Congress reconvened, instead of passing harmful bills, it passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

Wolfchild introduced Ernie Longwalker, 85, the leader of the Longest Walk. “If I had walked, no one would have noticed,” Longwalker said. “It was the people. … That was the strength.”

Longwalker talked about the importance of building and sustaining community. And that takes time. It used to be when when Native peoples came together it would take three or four days to get to know each other, he said. People would smoke the pipe, have a sweat, and only then would they sit down to talk. “We don’t come together no more, only when somebody dies.”

Bill Konrardy, a representative of the Native American Ministries Action Team of the UMC Minnesota Annual Conference spoke. (Note: Konrardy also is a Healing Minnesota Stories volunteer.) The decision to return the rock was part of a larger effort by the UMC to acknowledge and open space for healing from the Doctrine of Discovery. (The Doctrine of Discovery refers to the religious and legal justification used by European explorers to take Native lands and enslave, kill or convert Native peoples.) The UMC World Body voted in 2012 to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, he said.

We came to understand the terrible things that people do when acting on this dangerous idea. It seems impossible to repair all the damage that has been done. For starters we need to admit we have a problem and need to change our ways. … The Creator’s ways are a mystery. Being in right relationship is not, it takes care and attention and love to be in right relations.

Perry Altendorfer, historian for the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community, said In-Yan Sa “is sacred to us. We respect it as sacred to all Dakota people. … In-Yan Sa is the rebirth of our community. It is a huge opportunity.”

It also came out in the meeting that Stephanie Hope Smith is working as a mediator to help communications between Dakota elders and the United Methodist Church.

Mikey Peters (Dakota spiritual leader) said rematriating In-Yan Sa would give Dakota people “a place to drop back to.” Peters recalled attending the event where Bishop Ough spoke about In-Yan Sa. “I thought he wasn’t going to say anything good about Dakota people,” he said. “By the time he finished [announcing In-Yan Sa would be returned to the Dakota people] I was almost in tears.”

For more background in earlier blogs, see:

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