Dakota descendants should sue county over land acknowledgement

Hennepin County worked for over a year on their version of the latest woke fad: a land acknowledgement. After reading it, I think someone with Dakota or Anishinaabe heritage should sue the county. They could use the text of the land acknowledgement passed by county board members last week to get the land back or at least receive back rent for the years it’s been used by the county. They could start with the County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis — a particularly valuable piece of land.

The acknowledgement states the county “played a role in shaping the history of Dakota” and “continue to benefit from the unfavorable treaties, military campaigns, and settler colonialism, which encouraged white newcomers to settle and colonize Native American territory.”

It would be fascinating to watch a Hennepin County judge throw out the lawsuit and declare that in fact the land was paid for in full by the state and federal government. My colleague Katherine Kersten could help write the brief for the county. She debunked the myth that Minnesota is “stolen land” in a piece for the Fall 2021 issue of Thinking Minnesota magazine.

For example, decolonization ideology’s central claim is that Minnesota is stolen land — the “land of the Dakota” — and that justice requires “giving it back.” This false claim ignores the fact that, starting in 1946, the U.S. government meticulously addressed land-related and other grievances through a decades-long process involving an Indian Claims Commission established by Congress.

As a result of this process, the government paid the Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Sisseton and Wahpeton Dakota bands, including non-enrolled lineal descendants, millions of dollars in numerous payments. This was in addition to money the Dakota received pursuant to treaties prior to 1863, and other money they received after 1863.

In accepting the Commission’s final judgments, the bands agreed those judgments will “dispose of all rights, claims or demands, which the claimants have asserted, or could have asserted, with respect to the subject matter of the cases.”

Perhaps a court declaration would put an end to these silly land acknowledgements once and for all.

In addition to the stolen land myth, Hennepin County’s land acknowledgement is oddly full of religious references. It references prayers to the maternal God-like being and uses words like “creator” “spiritual” and “powers.” God forbid religious references to Judaism or Christianity would ever end up in an official county document. 

According to the Star Tribune, the document includes “some practical initiatives that will ensure the acknowledgement won’t just be unmeaningful words on a piece of paper.” But the language they cite is actually quite meaningless. Hennepin County promises to:

  • Create transformative partnerships and alliances, (like that doesn’t already exist?)
  • Convene conversations to explore possibilities (ooh – conversations)
  • Create increased engagement and consultation with the Native American community (more conversations!)
  • Organize events and workshops on Indigenous history, culture, and contemporary issues (already happening)
  • Look at the potential for developing land and water-based projects together (look at the potential – such a strong commitment to action!)

Like all the others before it, Hennepin County’s land acknowledgement is purely symbolic. Minnesota Native Americans should demand more. Maybe they should sue.