Growing up in Mountain Lake, John Stoesz heard the story of the U.S.-Dakota Conflict, and what he recalls being told was the story of a group of "crazy Indians" who just started killing white settlers for no real reason.
"I remember in fifth grade in particular we studied Minnesota history, and that was the impression left on me," he said.
As time has gone on, Stoesz, who now calls Newton, Kan. home, has learned the other side of the story – the tale of the Dakota people who had their land taken away by force and who were driven from that land losing their homes and their way of life.
Work is being done to gain back some of that land, and Stoesz has learned of that work. Now he has committed to doing his part to help.
In an effort to raise awareness of the issues and the work of an organization known as Oyate Nipi Kte, Stoesz has embarked on a bike tour through 40 counties in southern Minnesota that were once lands the Dakota called home.
Stoesz said most accept the fact that the Dakota land actually included much more, but the 40 southernmost counties are widely accepted as being Dakota territory.
Each county stop includes a visit to the county seat. Monday Stoesz pedaled into Redwood County and arrived in Redwood Falls. As of Monday, Stoesz had biked approximately 800 of the 2,000-plus miles he believes make up the trek. Redwood County was stop number 16 on the trip that had him traveling as far north as Wheaton.
Stoesz, who works as the executive director for the Mennonite Central Committee of Central States in Kansas, which is an organization dedicated to providing relief to those in need and focusing on peace and justice as part of their faith, said he initially learned about the mission of Oyate Nipi Kte, which means “let the people live” through a Dakota man named Harley Eagle. It was he who told him about the plight of his ancestors who fled to Canada when white settlers began moving into the territory they called their home.
When the call for a bounty of $25 per indian came down from the state, instigated by Alexander Ramsey, and later was raised to as much as $200-250, the loss of land and subsequent lost of their way of life, led to the Dakota standing up to those white settlers.
Stoesz said learning the truth of this issue and later when his family sold a piece of land in what would have been Dakota territory, he knew there was something he had to do. So, part of the proceeds from his portion of the sale went to the project, and he took two months off of work to make the ride.
Page 2 of 2 - On his recumbent bike, which Stoesz said is quite comfortable, he moves one mile at a time throughout the region, hoping to be finished by the end of October.
A fund has been established through Makoce Ikikcupi, which means “recovering the land,” and it currently has a little more than $54,000 toward a goal of $100,000.
Find out more at www.oyatenipikte.org.