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New Cankdeska Cikana Community College book tells history of Spirit Lake Tribe with Dakota place names

The Tribal College will celebrate the book release and give away signed copies during the annual Alumni Gathering on Thursday, July 21, which is open to the public.

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Cankdeska Cikana Community College published book “Mniwakan: Place Names and History of the Spirit Lake Dakota” serves as a tribute to the Spirit Lake Tribe’s traditional language and oral history.
Contributed / Cankdeska Cikana Community College
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FORT TOTTEN, N.D. — A new Cankdeska Cikana Community College book “Mniwakan: Place Names and History of the Spirit Lake Dakota” serves as a tribute to the Spirit Lake Tribe’s traditional language and oral history.

The tribal college will celebrate the book release and give away signed copies during the annual alumni gathering on Thursday, July 21, which is open to the public.

The book is made up of 25 chapters in a story collection of nearly 100 significant places and landmarks based on decades of research by the coauthors Louis Garcia and Mark Diedrich.

Garcia, CCCC’s Dakota studies instructor and Spirit Lake Nation tribal historian, has been documenting the tribe’s oral history and traditional knowledge since 1978 through listening to and interviewing tribal elders.

The book details the history of the Spirit Lake Nation and surrounding area, early settlers and Dakota place names.

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“When newcomers arrived, they changed a lot of the names to, you know, ‘Bill’s Hill’ and ‘Harry’s River,’ and stuff like that,” Garcia said. “We’re trying to preserve the Indian names so they don’t get lost, because in the future as the internet gets larger and larger, we should be able to get more information about these places.”

He says the knowledge of Dakota language, even within the Spirit Lake Tribe, is slipping away.

“Most of the younger generation doesn’t speak the language or understand the language, so we’re trying to preserve the language,” said Garcia.

Garcia’s co-author Diedrich has written several books on Dakota history and chiefs. He authored the CCCC published “Mni Wakan Oyate (Spirit Lake Nation): A History of the Sisituwan, Wahpeton, Pabaksa, and Other Dakota That Settled at Spirit Lake, North Dakota,” in 2007 and “Grass Dance of the Spirit Lake Dakota,'' with Garcia in 2014.

In writing history books, Garcia said, Diedrich would come across phonetically spelled Dakota words, and Garcia helped him with the correct spelling.

In an announcement about the book from CCCC, Diedrich detailed his research process for Mniwakan with Garcia.

"Louis had spent a lot of time gathering information to the degree that nobody else has, but it was skeletal," Diedrich said. "I filled in the gaps on what had happened at these places. I found myself wanting to know the history of Fort Totten, how the soldiers used it, how the reservation developed around it, how the Dakota related to the soldiers being there and the whole situation."

He says the history of Spirit Lake is generally misinterpreted and misrepresented by anti-Indian sentiments of early American newspapers, settlers and historians.

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"I've done quite a bit of research on the Spirit Lake Tribe, especially with newspapers, even though historians say it's unreliable, biased, and kind of racist in tone," said Diedrich. "But I find newspapers provide a lot of nitty-gritty information you can't get elsewhere. One of the chapters in the book is about the body of water the whites called 'Devil's Lake,' but the Dakota always call it ‘Spirit Water' or Spirit Lake.’

CCCC President Cynthia Lindquist, who is a member of the Spirit Lake Tribe, says it is important to protect the traditional language and oral history of the Spirit Lake Tribe.

"For over a century, colonization, termination, and assimilation efforts have tried to rob the Dakota people of their indigenous identity," Lindquist said. "But the survival of our people and culture is a testament to the resilience and strength of the Dakota identity through higher education the people can learn and thus, strengthen their pride in being Dakota."

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Louis Garcia, Dakota studies instructor and Spirit Lake Nation tribal historian, has been recording Dakota place names since 1978.
Contributed / Cankdeska Cikana Community College

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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