A baby stroller is parked outside. A vase of flowers rests in the middle of the dining table. The smell of burning sage lingers in the living room.
It's been awhile since the aging, two-story house along Sibley Memorial Highway in Mendota, the meeting center of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community, has been this homey.
Cultural chairman Jim Anderson, who moved in with his wife and 2-year-old daughter in February in protest of plans to turn the property into a parking lot, said things are on the upswing.
Earlier this year, the Mendota Dakota community was given notice that it had to leave the house by the end of March so the property could be sold and turned into a restaurant parking lot. However, the property owner recently extended the time the group could rent the house. Plus, a potential benefactor has stepped forward to try to help the group secure a nearby property.
"We don't need to be about confrontation. We don't win when we fight," Anderson said, sitting in his kitchen as his young daughter ran about and his wife washed dishes.
Instead, spreading public awareness about the group's situation may have been enough to help, he said.
The Mendota Dakota had been struggling to pay the rent for quite some time. In recent years, the group relied on a grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation, but it was denied additional funds last year.
Unlike the nearby Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Mendota Dakota isn't acknowledged by the federal government as a tribe, which would make the group eligible for funding and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
It didn't help the Mendota Dakota's situation when it was revealed that next door, eatery Axel's River Grille was interested in purchasing the property for a parking lot.
The property owner recently informed the group that it would be allowed to stay in the building a little bit longer while the sale is being finalized, said Tribal Vice Chairman Jim Albrecht.
The group will be able to stay on the property at least until the end of April and maybe through May, Albrecht said.
In other positive news, the Mendota Dakota may have found a new home. Tribal leaders have said they think a house that recently went up for sale in Mendota Heights would be a good fit. The building needs paint and new carpets, but the location is nearby, which is important, Anderson said.
The group wants to stay in the area because traditionally the Mendota Dakota believe that life began nearby where the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers meet.
A potential benefactor, which Anderson declined to name, is interested in making the purchase and is considering allowing the group to use the space, he said.
"I think it's on the right track," Albrecht said about the discussions.
He said he hopes more answers will come soon. Other supporters have stepped forward to also possibly assist, Anderson said. Eventually, Albrecht said, he wants the Mendota Dakota to own its own property so that it can avoid the situation it's in now.
"It's important for us and the state of Minnesota so that we can keep promoting the Dakota culture," Albrecht said.
If the other options don't work out, there is a possible fallback plan: A Mendota attorney has offered to share some office space with the group.
In the meantime, Anderson plans to run for Mendota Dakota chairman later this month in the tribal elections. He wants to move his family into the new center so that he can better serve the 250 or so members and act more as a spiritual leader.
"Our plans are not to just have a place where you sit around and do nothing, but a place for spiritual healing," Anderson said.
Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495