MANKATO — Mahkato Mdewakanton Association Chairman Dave Brave Heart estimates about 700 public and parochial school students participated in 2017 Education Day sessions Friday. A variety of programs were provided to help the youths gain insight into the history and lives of Dakota people.

Over the past three decades, more than 16,000 children, teachers, parents and Native American presenters have participated, according to a website for a traditional wacipi at Land of Memories Park. Educational programming has been offered in conjunction with the annual September event also known as the Mankato powwow.

The 1862 U.S.-Dakota War in southern Minnesota resulted in the execution of 38 Dakota warriors in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. The need for reconciliation efforts to heal wounds of the past was stressed during the 1987 Year of Reconciliation.

At that time a challenge was issued by Lakota educator, writer, political activist Vine Deloria Jr. to create new ceremonies involving Dakota, non-Dakota and the land. Such ceremonies were believed to be essential for beginning to build a new shared-history.

On each education day, Mankato area sixth graders, teachers and assisting parents learn about and experience southern Minnesota history and heritage through the direct-cultural exchange education program provided by Mdewakanton Dakota and other tribal peoples.

Learning stations are located in seven camps (corresponding to the seven bands of the Dakota nation). Each learning station is staffed with Native American resource persons who teach and demonstrate one aspect of their culture. Instructors represent communities in Canada, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

The day begins with a 15-minute "opening circle" ceremony conducted by Dakota leaders. All students, teachers and parents come together in the center of the large circle to listen and observe/participate in the Dakota way of acknowledging the Great Creator.

Groups of seven to 12 children then are provided with opportunities to listen and watch presenters and to ask them questions about crafts such as moccasin, flute and pipe making, wild rice gathering and Dakota language, regalia and dance.

The number of learning stations has increased from 12 in 1987 to 35 by 2003.

One presentation has proved year after year to be a favorite with participating student groups — a visit from an American Bald Eagle.

The final station draws all the youths into one large circle group for a "friendship" dance.

Many Education Day attendees also take part in weekend activities, including ample opportunities for dancing, at Land of Memories.

The 45th annual Traditional Wacipi at Land of Memories Park wraps up Sunday afternoon.

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