Dismantling White Supremacy Culture Resource of the Month - May 2023

By Lisa Presley

In April, I attended the UU-United Nations Office Spring Seminar, where we learned about Demilitarization and Abolition. The information was important to hear from the speakers, but it was the two pilgrimages we made that remain with me: the visit to George Floyd Square, and the Sacred Sites tour that outlined the history of the Dakota people in Minnesota.

At George Floyd Square, we met with members of the community who talked about the history of policing in the area, and the creation of an intentional community after Mr. Floyd’s death. It was a pilgrimage, and important to listen to the residents of the community. Much of what we heard accented what I had read before, and still, there was an entirely different feel in hearing from the community members.

The Sacred Sites tour led us to three sites that were important to the Dakota people along the Minnesota River. Jim Bear Jacobs, the leader, told us about how the Dakota were first forced off their lands, and then forcibly brought back to live in the shadow of Fort Snelling. That winter, the death toll was horrendous, and the handling of the bodies of the deceased by the soldiers was done with lack of respect, that the Dakota took to burying their own loved ones. We moved within the area where so many years ago the Dakota buried their own, to save them from the treatment by the soldiers. Though the rains and time has dislodged their bodies, it is still sacred land. After their time outside Fort Snelling, the Dakota were told that they had to leave the state—and still today, according to Jim Bear, there is still a law on the books (superseded by others) making it illegal to be Dakota and live in Minnesota.

Across the river is an area known as Pilot Knob, that boat captains used to use as navigation on the river. It is no longer a “knob” of land, because years ago, developers had removed the top 30 feet of the knob to provide clean “fill” in other construction projects.

But what we also learned was that for the Dakota people, Pilot Knob was known as Oheyawahi, the traditional burial ground of the Dakota. During the removal of that top 30 feet, the bulldozers would uncover bones, and they would pick them up, and throw them into a “bone shed” on the property, and then go right on back until they had to stop and remove more bones they uncovered. At the end of the project, the bones were turned over, with no ceremony, to others to take care of—there was no dignity or respect, and no concern that they were disturbing a cemetery.

After the knob had been removed, there was a move to build condominiums on the land. The Native people worked to try to stop it, but Jim Bear stated that it took the power of six dedicated suburban white women to stop the building on the historical burial grounds.

The irony: across a 15 foot road, there was a polished cemetery, with marble headstones and manicured grass. Jim Bear said to us that we probably didn’t know anyone who would think it was right to dig up any of those graves, but chances are that we know a dozen who would have approved of the building of the condos on land sacred to the Dakota people.

Jim Bear asked a question that stays with me still: Whose voices is there no negative consequences for not listening to them? Or, in other words, whose voices can we ignore without there being negative consequences? Too often, the answer is those who are on the margins of our society, and are those who may be marginalized in our congregations. The question I now ask is whose voices, in our UU congregations, can we “safely” ignore, and is that who we want to be?

If you live in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area, or go there, please reach out and take the Sacred Sites Tour with Jim Bear. It is worth it, for sure.

About the Author

Lisa Presley

Lisa Presley is a life-long Unitarian Universalist who was an active lay leader before entering our ministry in 1991. As a lay leader she was board president, board member, worship associate, stewardship campaign chair, religious education teacher, bookkeeper, secretary, and shoveled the snow as...

For more information contact .