A journey for justice


Before European settlement, the land now called Minnesota was the home of the Dakota people. Their descendants now reside on less than one-hundredth of 1 percent of the area of the state after their ancestors were driven off their lands following their defeat in the Dakota War of 1862.

On Friday morning, John Stoesz cycled through Marshall on a 2,000-mile trip to raise awareness of a project to restore some of the land to the Dakota.

“The idea is to visit all 40 counties in southern Minnesota which was Dakota territory before white settlement,” Stoesz said. “After the Dakota War, Governor Ramsey declared all Dakota should be killed or driven out of the state. He actually put a bounty of $250 per person, a lot of money in those days.”

His mode of transportation is a three-wheel, recumbent tricycle made by Catrike. It’s equipped with a trailer that holds Stoesz’s camping gear.

“It’s super comfortable,” Stoesz said. “I had a stroke in 2004, and I have a balance deficit, so there’s no problem with the trike. It’s pretty much replaced my car for most all of my local errands.”

The cause Stoesz is riding for is called Makoce Ikikcupi in the Dakota language, which means, “Recovering the Land,” a project of Oyate Nipi Kte organization, “Let the People Live.”

Stoesz is the great-grandson of German Mennonites who settled in Mountain Lake, where his trip began. When his family decided to sell the family farm last December, he and his wife decided to donate some of the proceeds to the project to buy land to expand the Dakota communities in the state.

Stoesz first heard of the project from a Dakota coworker Harley Eagle, when Stoesz was executive director of the Mennonite Central Committee, Central States in Kansas.

“For me, it’s a justice cause,” Stoesz said. “I’m trying to raise awareness that the return of some Dakota land to these people is happening.”

Stoesz also points out that Oyate Nipi Kte is a 501 (c) (3) organization and donations are tax deductible.

“Because of the sale, my wife and I made more money than we ever had in one year but paid less tax than any year because of the donation,” Stoesz said.

Stoesz began his trip on Sept. 3, a little later than planned because of a hernia operation and expects to finish in Fairmont around Oct. 29.

According to a statement from Oyate Nipi Kte, “Oyate Mipi Kte is committed to restoring a land base for Dakota people through the Kakoce Ikidupi project so that we may being to bring some of our relatives home, re-establish our spiritual and physical relationship with our homeland, and ensure the ongoing existence of our People. Our cultural survival depends on it.”