Mat Pendleton of the Lower Sioux community has a vision.

He wants to help bring back an important element of his Dakota way of life – the canoe.

“Before horses the canoe was our major form of transportation,” said Pendleton.

So, Pendleton initiated the process of having a dugout canoe carved from a tree. After doing some research, Pendleton was not able to find anyone from the Dakota culture who could assist him with that project, and so through an encounter with Dr. Vincent Diaz, an American Indian studies professor at the University of Minnesota, Pendleton was able to make a connection with people who could bring that vision to reality.

During the first week of September, a trio of individuals visited the Lower Sioux Community. They took an old Cottonwood tree, and, before the eyes of those who stopped to watch, found the canoe that was inside of it.

What makes the story more interesting is that the canoe builders are from an island culture in the Pacific Ocean. They are Micronesians, and they were led by Mario Benito who came from the Polowat Atoll as part of a special relationship that has been developed over the years based here in Minnesota. 

The story becomes more captivating when one learns there is a small Micronesian people group living in Milan.

Benito said after a member of the Peace Corps spent time in the islands there was a level of interest among the people to move to Minnesota, as there were job opportunities there.

“That was in the early 1980s,” he said, adding on a regular basis more and more families go.

Pendleton said his interest in canoe building has grown over the years, and recently the Lower Sioux had a canoe made for them by Max Kelsey, who also made one for the public library last year.

The intent with the new canoe is to utilize it for community recreation programming, and Pendleton is hopeful that as he learns more about the art of canoe making that he can do it on his own and teach others to do it, too.

Some time in the future, the plan is to bring the new canoe to the Milan area where it will join in the water an outrigger the Micronesian culture built, with the overall idea to bring the two cultures together alongside the Scandinavian culture that is prominent there.

Pendleton said a large Cottonwood tree was taken down on the Lower Sioux Community for the canoe, and he said, with the addition of Basswood, that is a tree that is used often in the building of dugout canoes.

While he did research, Pendleton said he is still hopeful to find someone from the Dakota culture who knows more about how his people built canoes, but until that time he knows he’s in good hands with Benito who learned how to build canoes as he watched his father and other relatives do it over the years.

“I have done a few cuts and have asked lots of questions,” said Pendleton.

Connection to the water is an important part of the culture, said Pendleton, and so he wants to make sure that however he moves forward it is done the right way.

“This has been a blessing for me,” said Pendleton, adding now he wants to share that with others.