RISE: Native American

Photo (c) Dean Johnson.

When European settlers began to arrive in Minnesota, all land belonged to the Ojibway in the north or the Dakota in the south. Although the tribes had different customs and languages, they shared similar styles of living. The extended family was the primary unit of organization. In the winter, the family groups dispersed over a wide area to hunt, while in the spring, summer, and autumn they came together in bands to gather wild food and cultivate crops. This was also the time for celebrations, social activities, and religious ceremonies. Their political organization was democratic, and decisions were based on consensus. Leaders gained their influence by demonstrating their wisdom; they had no power of enforcement, but were followed when people had confidence in their ability.


Transfer of Land

In the 30 years between 1837 and 1867, most of the land belonging to the Ojibway and Dakota tribes was transferred to the United States for redistribution to the European settlers. Sometimes the land was purchased; sometimes it was taken by force; sometimes promises were given in exchange; but the end result of this vast exchange of land was the same: the Native Americans lost their land and were relocated onto reservations. Because they lost the freedom of movement that had sustained their way of life and did not receive many of the benefits promised in treaties, their ability to survive independently was severely compromised. Poverty, inadequate education, and poor health care were widespread on the reservations.


After World War II, Native Americans began to stream into urban areas in search of jobs. The situation of these migrants was, however, not unlike that of immigrants from other countries: they were relegated to poor housing and poorly-paid employment. Nonetheless, by 1980 one third of Minnesota's Native American population lived in the Twin Cities.


Calling Rochester Home

Rochester is currently home to about 550 Native Americans. They are not necessarily Ojibway or Dakota, but come from tribes in many areas of the country. Nonetheless, their challenge is the same: how to become successful in the economic mainstream without losing their traditional identity and spiritual center. From dispelling stereotypes created by Hollywood images to honoring and maintaining sacred traditions such as drumming and dancing, to sharing food and support, Native Americans are coming together to reclaim a respected place on their native land.


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