Indigenous tourism in Bugle territory

By Kathy Henderson

(Editor’s note: November is National Indigenous Tourism month.)

Although Indigenous tourism is not a term often heard around here, it is rapidly gaining notice in Canada.

The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada — was established in 2014, and provincial associations stretch from the coastal Innu Nation of Labrador to the Yukon’s 14 First Nations. They host conferences, offer training programs and form partnerships with tourism promotion organizations.

The prevailing message is to travel with intention, whether across the country or within your own city.

This inspired me to connect with some people and resources to create my own Indigenous tourism itinerary for a Saturday exploration around the Park Bugle’s coverage area.

Dakota Land Map—U’s Magrath Library

As a map is always a handy thing to have when starting a journey, my first stop was the Magrath Library on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus (1984 Buford Ave.) where a sizeable print of the “Dakota Land Map: Minneapolis & Saint Paul” by Marlena Myles (Spirit Lake Dakota, Mohegan, Muscogee) is on display.

While Myles makes PDF copies available as a free download at, a hand-held computer printout doesn’t quite provide the impact that viewing the larger map does.

When asked if she knew how the print of her map came to be displayed at the U’s library, Myles humbly replied, “There was no special event as to why the map was purchased other than its educational value. They ordered it from me like most people do, to honor and teach about Dakota homelands. Every day is a good day for that.”

However, Krista Brickbauer, facilities and operations manager for the U’s St. Paul Campus libraries, provided more institutional-related details that included the availability of budget funds to purchase art and their awareness of the Dakota Land Map.

“One of our core principles in this project [to purchase art for display at Magrath] was to try to reflect the community that our library serves,” Brickbauer said. “We felt strongly that displaying a piece like this would help to educate people about the area and would center Indigenous history and culture.”

Gibbs Farm—Historic

On one of the final Saturdays that the Gibbs Farm: Pathways to Dakota and Pioneer Life was still open during its 2023 season, I was exploring — with intention — the area that Gibbs interprets as an 1800s Dakota lifeway village.

The Dakota program at Gibbs Farm: Pathways to Dakota & Pioneer Life is influenced by the seasonal life of the Dakota of Ȟeyáta Othúŋwe (Cloud Man’s Village) at Bdé Makhá Ska of the 1800s and includes replica tipis. Photo by Drew Henderson.

More than 20 years ago, when decisions were being made on what to feature in historical museums, the credentialed curators of the Gibbs Museum sought the advice and guidance of the Dakota community, including descendants of Maȟpíya Wičhášta (Chief Cloud Man), in establishing the Dakota village area. Its name eventually was changed to Gibbs Farm: Pathways to Dakota & Pioneer Life.

“It was really important that it was an accurate history of the time period,” said Sammy Nelson, director of Gibbs Farm, “and several people continue to contribute their guidance today.”

The connection of the Gibbs site to Maȟpíya Wičhášta Village, which was on the shore of Bde Maka Ska, is that before her marriage to Heman Gibbs, Jane Debow Gibbs’ childhood was spent living near the village.

Like many who live in or drive through the area, I almost take for granted seeing its familiar landmarks — the tops of its tipis — as I drive along Larpenteur or Cleveland avenues. And I admit that when I visited the Gibbs site in the past, I typically spent time at the farmstead and the school house, maybe only glancing across the prairie plantings toward the area where the replica tipis and bark home are located.

This time was different. I took a close look at the Dakota structures and read the accompanying signage. Although the plants looked a little weather worn in the fall season, I spent a great deal of time at the Dakota Native Medicine Garden.

Indigenous community members designed this teaching garden in the shape of a turtle. It is considered a teaching garden because the Dakota of this era would have gathered such plants in the wild.

The Gibbs brochure and garden signage clearly identify what is planted in each garden section and the brochure provides information on how the plants were used for medical treatment. For example, yarrow was for reducing fever and alum root treated sore throats.

The Dakota program is popular with both the general public and school groups, Nelson said. Teachers often tell her how important it was to be at the site and have its curriculum available as a starting place to introduce their students to the history of Minnesota’s Indigenous people.

CE Zone Murals—Contemporary

Just as the Gibbs site introduces the Dakota living experience of past, the Creative Enterprise Zone’s Chroma Zone murals that are created by Indigenous artists provide an authentic sharing of the Indigenous story, that is contemporary and robust.

Viewing the murals contributes to the recognition that there are active Indigenous artists today, which is valuable in challenging the misconception that Native Americans existed only in the past. That their artwork reflected a “redefinition of culture identity” was included on more than one artists’ statements.

In their own way, the murals reinforce the “We are still here.” theme of last month’s American Indigenous Tourism Conference in Durant, Oklahoma, hosted by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

“Unci Maka,” which is translated from the Dakota language to Grandmother Earth, is the title of the mural by Thomasina Topbear (Santee Dakota and Oglala Lakota) on the south wall of the Murphy Rigging building at 2299 Territorial Road W. Photo by Drew Henderson.

Artists, mural titles, locations and artists statements are available on the CEZ website at Weekends are a quieter traffic time to view the murals that are on various commercial and industrial buildings in south St. Anthony Park and the Midway area. I planned my route with the help of the website map and used my cell phone to read the artist’s statement at each mural stop.

Look for works by Holly (Mis­kitoos) Henning (Marten Falls Anishinaabe First Nation and Constance Lake Oji-Cree First Nation); Povi Marie (Leah Lewis) (Pueblo/Diné); Marlena Myles; Thomasina Topbear (Santee Dakota and Oglala Lakota); and Missy Whiteman (Northern Arapaho and Kickapoo).

Makwa Coffee

When it was time to end my Indigenous tourism exploration, I headed to Makwa Coffee (2805 Hamline Ave. N.) in nearby Rose­ville to refresh, recharge and reflect. Jamie Becker-Finn (Leach Lake Ojibwe, Bear Clan) opened the shop in 2022.

What next? Make your own itinerary.

While my Indigenous tourism itinerary took place on a Saturday afternoon around the Park Bugle neighborhood, there are other sites, shops and chefs in the Twin Cities that one might consider in designing a personal itinerary. Here’s a sample:

Wakan Tipi Awanyankapi

A visit to Wakan Tipi Awanyankapi at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary (265 Commercial St.) was recommended by artist Myles, Gibbs director Nelson and Jim Rock, director of Indigenous Programming at the U.

According to various resources, Wakan Tipi Awanyankapi translates from the Dakota language to “those who care for Wakan Tipi.” And Wakan Tipi, which roughly translates as the “dwelling place of the sacred” or “dwelling of the Great Spirit,” is the Dakota name for the sacred cave that for years was referred to as Carver’s Cave, as named by explorer and mapmaker Jonathan Carver around 1776-1777. The Wakan Tipi Center is currently under construction with an anticipated opening in 2024.

If you go to Wakan Tipi Awan­yankapi, Myles encourages trying the “Dakota Spirit Walk,” an augmented reality installation that she designed. By downloading an app on their cell phones, visitors are able hear audio and view digital images at stops along the walk. Myles also designed the “Dakota Sacred Hoop Walk” at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska.

In recommending Wakan Tipi Awanyankapi, Rock (­Sisseton Dakota) acknowledges the non-Indigenous educational value but also is apprehensive about Indigenous sacred spaces being developed. He is concerned about disrespect and destruction and misinterpretation.

“We hope to not entertain tourists with what is often perceived as our exotic past, but rather awaken them to our ongoing living presence and renewal and decolonizing ‘land back’ perspective,” he said.

Sacred sites

The Minnesota Humanities Center on St. Paul’s East Side has provided its “Learning from Place: Bdote” workshops for 10 years. That’s 100 times, 3,000 people! The Minneapolis-based Minnesota Council of Churches also provides Indigenous sacred site tours through its “Healing Minnesota Stories” program.

Both organizations focus on Indigenous spiritual places around the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, “a sacred landscape the Dakota call Bdote”: Eháŋna Wičháhapi/Indian Mounds Regional Park, Wiki Tipi, Oheyawahi/Pilot Knob Hill, and Historic Fort Snelling State Park, the Dakota Internment Camp following the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862.

Museums and galleries

Located in downtown St. Paul, the Minnesota Historical Society (“Our Home: Native Minnesota”) and the Science Museum of Minnesota (“We Move and We Stay”) have permanent exhibit space highlighting Indigenous history and culture.

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ Native art galleries displays its collection of historic works and features contemporary art work. Also in Minneapolis, All My Relations Art focuses on the works of contemporary artists (1414 Franklin Ave. E.).

In October, the MNHS opened “Reframing Our Stories.” In an email correspondence, Rita Walaszek Arndt (White Earth Nation) — the Native American Initiatives department’s program and outreach manager — described how the NAI and Indigenous community members re-examined and reframed photographs taken by Twin Cities journalists from the 1950s-1990s. The result: “Striking photos line the gallery walls, with new text show­casing strength and resilience of Native communities — both past and present — in our own words.” The exhibit runs through Oct. 31, 2025.

Also in October, Mia opened “In Our Hands: Native Photography, 1890 to Now.” That exhibit closes Jan. 14, 2024. Its retrospective, “The Lyrical Artwork of Jim Denomie” (Ojibwe, Lac Courte Oreilles Band, 1955–2022), continues to March 24, 2024.

Chefs and shops

Minneapolis is the place to find Birchbark Books (2115 21st St. W.), a well-known source for Native books, games and art that is owned by Pulitzer Prize winning author Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indian); Woodland Crafts Gift Shop (temporarily in the Many Rivers East Building, 1508 Franklin Ave. E.); and the eating establishments founded by award-winning Lakota Chef Sean Sherman, Owamni by The Sioux Chef (420 First St. S.) and The Indigenous Food Lab Market (Midtown Global Market, 920 Lake St. E.).

A remodeled Gathering Café will reopen when construction at the Minneapolis American Indian Center on Franklin Avenue is completed (1530 Franklin Ave. E.). 

Kathy Henderson lives in St. Paul and is a freelance writer for the Bugle.

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