By Edie Schmierbach
---- — Thirteen acres near Butterfield is John Stoesz's portion of inheritance from his grandparents' farm. For decades his family profited from land taken from the ancestors of Dakota now living in Minnesota and out of state.
About a year ago, when his family sold the farm they had been renting out, Stoesz, a 1973 graduate of Mountain Lake High School, and his wife, Marsha, made the decision to give half of the money they made to Makoce Ikikcupi, a project committed to restoring a land base for Dakota people. "It seemed reasonable to us that a portion of the profits would be donated to be used to purchase land," he said.
Making a physical effort to right a wrong also seemed reasonable to the man who had, until June, served as executive director of the Mennonite Central Committee Central States — a $5-million-a-year relief, development and peace organization that encompasses 16 states.
This fall, he is taking time away from work to ride his bike back and forth throughout the state promoting a recovery project for people indigenous to land that is now called Minnesota. Stoesz, who now lives in Newton, Kan., thought the time was right to return to Minnesota for the vitally important task of Dakota land recovery, he said.
His goal is to pedal to 40 county seats by the end of this month, and he made his stop in Mankato last week. Along the way, Stoesz has been describing an opportunity for individuals to restore some of the land to its original inhabitants through contributions to Makoce Ikikcupi, a project of the nonprofit Oyate Nipi Kte (The People Shall Live).
"I get to combine my love of biking with my wanting to build awareness of land justice," he said.
Stoesz doesn't have a website nor is he keeping a blog. The bike tour is all about meeting people face to face.
The people he's encountered along the road so far have had one of three types of reactions, Stoesz said: "They want to ignore the issue and talk about my recumbent bike. A couple have only wanted to argue. The third reaction comes from people who are genuinely interested in land justice." He focuses on the latter group.
"There should be a sharing of the land," Stoesz said. "There's still something we can do about that."
"It's not that they (the Dakota) want direct reparations," he said. "They are looking to buy land near Granite Falls."
The organization Oyate Nipi Kte is happy to have Stoesz plead their case. "Our nonprofit is extremely appreciative to John for his personal contribution to the land project as well as his work to help inspire Minnesotans to engage in personal acts of reparative justice," was the written response from Waziyatawin, a 45-year-old Dakota scholar who works with Oyate Nipi Kte and lives at the Upper Sioux reservation.
Waziyatawin described an ideal spot for a project site: a place with access to wild food sources or one with plenty of room for large gardens, animals and fruit and nut trees.
"Our hope is that Dakota people who are now landless or who live in exile may come back to Dakota homeland and help establish communities committed to renewing our relationship with the land and strengthening Dakota ways of being. It's a long-term vision for Dakota land recovery,"
"I had family that fought, family that fled, and family that was force-marched under bayonet and gun point from Lower Sioux to Fort Snelling before finally being forcibly removed from our homeland in May 1863," she wrote.
"The land recovery project is about trying to address those historical wrongs by working toward justice ... This project creates space for Minnesotans to personally contribute to our struggle for justice through an act of personal reparations."