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Mankato’s Reconciliation Park gets first overall design

April 13, 2019

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — More than two decades after the creation of Mankato’s Reconciliation Park, the cramped and noisy but emotionally and spiritually charged piece of land will be undergoing changes.

Located near the site of the gallows where 38 Dakota men were hanged in 1862, the largest mass execution in American history, the park was dedicated in 1997 as a place to reflect, meditate and remember. Some additions were made to the park in 2012 to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War, including a memorial scroll listing the Dakota names of the warriors executed.

But it wasn’t until this year that a comprehensive design for the park was drawn up, the Mankato Free Press reported.

“We’re limited,” said Scot Zellmer of the tiny parcel bordered by busy Riverfront Drive, a freight rail corridor and the Veterans Memorial Bridge. “But it takes that individual initiative.”

Zellmer, a communications instructor at Minnesota State University, joined the effort by city officials, local indigenous people and organizers of the annual Mankato powwow to create a more complete park.

The southern half of the small piece of land already contains the memorial scroll, a limestone sculpture of a bison, benches and plantings. There’s also a map showing the locations of other historic markers and monuments in the community created in the spirit of reconciliation between the two cultures.

The north side of the parcel, nearest the bridge, is vacant and will be the focus of the additions to the park. City crews will be adding walkways to that area and preparing it for the limestone sculpture of a pair of Dakota moccasins. Local sculptor Tom Miller, who has begun work on the sculpture, was the artist commissioned to create the white bison that was the original centerpiece of the park and also the Winter Warrior sculpture across Riverfront Drive at the Blue Earth County Library.

A Douglas fir will be planted in honor of the late Mankato businessman Bud Lawrence, who had worked with Dakota leader Amos Owen since the 1970s to build a relationship between the two communities. Several beds of ceremonial plants are planned. And bilingual signs will be added.

The designs are aimed in part at passersby, Zellmer said.

“To get people off the sidewalk and then draw them into the park,” he said, crediting Mankato Community Development Director Paul Vogel with sparking interest in improving the park.

Vogel is pleased with the result.

“I think it was a well-thought-out plan that was developed by the group,” he said.

Mankato has agreed to add the walkways this summer, and the moccasins sculpture will be added whenever Miller finishes it, Vogel said. Other improvements will come incrementally as funds are raised, and some upgrades will come with the reconstruction of Riverfront Drive, now scheduled for 2022.

The new sculpture of the moccasins has particular symbolic and educational importance, Zellmer said.

While there’s awareness of the U.S.-Dakota Conflict and the mass execution that followed, the story was far from over on Dec. 26, 1862.

“The tragedy continued,” he said.

More than 1,200 Dakota elders, women and children were marched to an internment camp below St. Paul’s Fort Snelling, a place many Dakota refer to as a concentration camp.

“In towns along the way, they were physically attacked and abused,” Zellmer said.

The next year, they were exiled to reservations in South Dakota — along with the Ho-Chunk people who lived near St. Clair and who were not involved in the U.S.-Dakota Conflict. Hundreds died during the trip or from starvation and exposure during their first winter on the barren land near the Missouri River.

“Most people’s knowledge ends at the hanging,” he said. ”... There’s a lot more to it than what we might think we know and understand.”

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Information from: The Free Press, http://www.mankatofreepress.com