June 3 Speaker: Rebecca Crooks-Stratton, Understand Native Minnesota Initiative

Nate Bostrom introduced Rebecca Crooks-Stratton, the Secretary/Treasurer of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC), a federally recognized, sovereign Native American tribe located east of Chaska. As a member of the SMSC Business Council, she oversees the day-to-day operations of the tribal government and its relationships with its members, other governments and elected officials, and its more than 4,000 employees. 

Crooks-Stratton has a master’s degree in tribal administration and governance from the University of Minnesota Duluth. Her bachelor’s degree is in American Indian studies and political science from the University of Arizona.

Rebecca greeted us in her native language and continued her enlightening presentation for another 30-45 minutes.  She shared a photo of her grandfather and his history of being separated from his family and culture and interred in a boarding school.  This set the stage for her description of the Understand Native Minnesota Initiative and its goals.  Most Minnesotans have little or no in-depth understanding of the state’s tribes, their history, governments, and culture. By sharing accurate information through a dedicated campaign in Minnesota’s K-12 education system, the initiative can improve younger generations’ understanding of the state’s tribes and Native peoples. The SMSC has dedicated $5 million over the next 3 years to develop a “narrative change.”

Narrative change is the practice of intentionally changing for the better the general public’s views of a group of people through education, awareness raising, and constructively overcoming misunderstandings and misperceptions. To support this new narrative change work, the SMSC launched Understand Native Minnesota in October 2019. The 2020 pandemic put a hold on major implementation activities, but in May 2021 SMSC launched a new podcast series today, entitled Native Minnesota with Rebecca Crooks-Stratton. Hosted by today’s speaker, the series features conversations with thought leaders and changemakers in Minnesota and across Indian Country.  Referencing the podcast, Rebecca is quoted “I think this is just another way for Native people to express themselves and be able to hear from modern Native people.”

Governor Walz has established an education plan that parallels the SMSC efforts. – “Indigenous Education for All.”  In calling for an accurate history of Minnesota’s Indigenous history, the Walz administration proposed an initial round of $1.3 million in competitive grants for curriculum development, a separate grant to the Tribal Nations Education Committee and two new positions in the Department of Education’s Academic Standards Division.  The goal is to “hear, learn and understand the contributions of our tribal nations, and to make sure we’re doing that not just for our Indigenous students but also our entire school population,” said Deputy Education Commissioner Heather Mueller.

Reinforcing the need for more education and awareness, Rebecca reminded us that North America was not discovered in 1492, because it was already inhabited.  Getting closer to home, she noted that we are all living on land that is covered by the treaties made with the tribes in the 1800s. Summarizing on a positive note, she used the partnership between the SMSC and Shakopee to develop a joint use water treatment facility as an example of cities recognizing the sovereignty and common goals of Minnesota’s indigenous tribes.

For more detailed information: https://www.understandnativemn.org.  To contact Rebecca you must work through: Madeleine Rush; [email protected]; Cell: 651-214-6937 Office: 651-717-4171, or Sara Dobesh; [email protected]