News release: Upper Sioux Community and State of Minnesota mark the return of sacred land

March 15, 2024

This morning, tribal and state officials gathered to enact the official transfer of the state-owned land that was within the boundaries of Upper Sioux Agency State Park to the Upper Sioux Community (Pezihutazizi Oyate).

“After years of work, I’m grateful to mark the official return of this land to the Yellow Medicine Dakota People,” said Governor Walz. “In 2019, Chairman Kevin Jensvold shared with me the history and significance of this land to the Yellow Medicine People. Together as partners — Tribal, state, and federal — we worked to return the land to its original caretakers. This isn’t us doing the right thing, we are simply undoing the wrong thing.”

Today’s ceremony at the Upper Sioux Community included an invocation, traditional Dakota customs, remarks from Tribal and state leaders, and the signings of the official deed and a ceremonial deed marking the historic land transfer.

The transferred land is the sacred homeland of Dakota people. It was also the site of starvation and death of native people during the summer of 1862 when the United States government did not provide food promised by treaty. Today, descendants of those who died shared their stories as part of the land transfer ceremony.

“Today is a historic and powerful day for the Yellow Medicine Oyate and the State of Minnesota,” said Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. “It was an honor to be invited by the Yellow Medicine Community to be present during this historic moment, but this didn’t just happen overnight. The Governor was the first Governor to visit the Yellow Medicine Community since former Governor Sibley led a war party to them. The Governor and I are committed to continuing our strong partnerships with Tribal governments. We have been working towards this day with Chairman Jensvold since we took office. I am proud to stand with the Governor at Pezihutazizi Kapi Makoce (Land Where They Dig the Yellow Medicine) to witness this historic event.”

Consistent with legislation enacted in 2023, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources closed Upper Sioux Agency State Park on February 16, 2024, marking an important step toward today’s transfer of the land to the Upper Sioux Community.

“This land transfer is an important moment in our state’s history. Given its significance to Dakota people and the tragic events that took place there, it was inappropriate to continue to operate a park at that site,” DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said. “Minnesota DNR has been honored and humbled to have worked with the Upper Sioux Community on the return this land to the Community. We now look forward to continuing to explore new recreation opportunities in the Minnesota River Valley.”

More information about DNR’s public engagement process on future recreation opportunities in the Minnesota River Valley as well as feedback from the public can be found here: Upper Sioux Agency State Park Recreation Alternatives | Engage with DNR | Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

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