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For the first time, the Hennepin County Board adopted a historic document acknowledging land and water taken from the area's Dakota people.

The document, a three-year effort put together by a diverse workgroup including Native American county elders, was read to the full board and approved last month. It also cites a plan for today's county institutions to work more closely and reparatively with the Dakota people, "whose homeland we occupy."

"[The county] can create transformative partnerships and alliances, convening conversations to explore possibilities, creating increased engagement and consultation with the Native American community, organizing events and workshops on Indigenous history, culture, and contemporary issues, and looking at the potential for developing land and water-based projects together," the document said.

The acknowledgement is the next step in the county's continuing community engagement with Native American populations. The county has had a designated American Indian Heritage Month for the past several years, healing circles and provided a list of nonprofits that are "trusted messengers" to improve health care outcomes.

"The acknowledgement statement is beautifully written, and that comes from deep, deep pain," said Commissioner Irene Fernando. "Acknowledging that their land was taken and occupied is the least we can do."

Last month, the county board and community members held a dedication for a new flag lending library that currently contains the flags from Minnesota's 11 sovereign nations that can be checked out for events. They will housed at Franklin Library in Minneapolis.

Other large institutions have developed land and water acknowledgements in the last several years. Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., which was built on the land of several tribes, said in its statement the document formally recognizes and respects Indigenous peoples as traditional stewards of college land and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous peoples and their traditional territories.​

In the creation of the county's document, Board Chair Marion Greene said she wanted the process to be guided by Indigenous people as much as possible. Along with the county's community liaison, the working group including people from several different reservations.

The document is a combination of Native American history and language and some practical initiatives that will ensure the acknowledgement won't just be unmeaningful words on a piece of paper.

"This is only the start of what we should be doing to be more collaborative," said Commissioner Debbie Goettel.

In one section of the document, the county calls attention to the Dakota people's ongoing connection to this special place. Today, the county institutions continue to benefit from the unfavorable treaties, military campaigns and settler colonialism, which encouraged white newcomers to settle and colonize Native American territory.

"The county played a role in shaping the history of Dakota people. This was enabled by laws, such as the Homestead Act of 1862 which brought 75,000 settlers to Minnesota in the first three years of its enactment, resulting in the displacement and starvation of Dakota people. Atop this, the heinous 1863 Dakota Removal Act coercively displaced and removed Dakota and HoChunk people from Minnesota after a brutal incarceration at Ft. Snelling," according to the document.

"I serve Ft. Snelling and the largest urban native population in the state in my district," said Commissioner Angela Conley. "I'm honored to be able to represent the constituents in those very important communities."

The Dakota people originated at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. For millennia, the Dakota Nation acknowledged and embraced the immeasurable expanse of our circular world as Unci Maka or Grandmother Earth.

"This beautiful, terrestrial grandmother provided the Dakota warm shelter when it was cold. She gave them shade when it was hot. She fed them when they were hungry and gave them water when they were thirsty," the document said. "She is still the first role model to all her grandchildren — the two-legged, the four-legged, those that fly, those that crawl, those that rise from the ground, and those that flow."

The authors of the statement wrote that the Dakota became a sovereign nation — a sovereignty that predates the sovereignty of the United States. The sovereignty status of the Dakota remains today.