SHAKOPEE, Minn. (WCCO) — In the middle of Scott County, you can learn about history, culture and language through the eyes of the Dakota people.

The Mdewakanton Sioux Cultural Center is an eye-opener for visitors. Hoċokata Ti is the lodge at the center of the camp. It’s also the center of a community — one that’s been here for centuries, yet remains undiscovered by many.

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Cole Miller is the vice chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

“People are blown away,” Miller said. “The general public, sometimes right here in Shakopee or Prior Lake, have no idea that this tribe even exists.”

To help educate people about their Native nation, Mdewakanton Sioux tribal members built a cultural center. They traveled the country and toured a number of museums before they designed this one. You won’t find a single, right angle inside, because they believe life comes full circle.

“I think there’s a feeling when you go into buildings that you experience, and now for us it just feels right,” said center director Andy Vig.

Cultural symbols are everywhere, like the seven teepees — each 100-feet tall — that represent the Dakota Nation. Or the seven values of the community, which can be found inside the exhibit, along with countless other artifacts.

This walking history of the Mdewakanton Sioux showcases their innovation, and their entertainment. Vig says the Sioux had a role in developing the game of lacrosse, which they call “the creator’s game.”

(credit: CBS)

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There’s also the darker side of their history, such as broken treaties that played a role in the Dakota War of 1862 — the only war involving U.S. soldiers to be fought on Minnesota soil.

“There was this anxiety building, you could see that we were getting smaller and smaller with your resources,” Vig said. “It wasn’t that one day, you know, the Dakota woke up and wanted to go to war. At the end of the day, starvation was setting in.”

For Vig, one of the most important resources the center can offer its members is preservation of the Dakota language. Thanks to cities and towns throughout our state, we speak the language every day and don’t even know it.

“Chaska … is a Dakota word meaning ‘our first born son,’” he said.

Vig spent three years learning the words his ancestors spoke. Now he’s helping to teach the next generation why it’s important to keep the Dakota language alive.

“Growing up, you know, I heard very little language,” he said. “I just hope, you know, one day you walk in here and all’s you hear is Dakota language spoken.”

The center is a place where people learn from each other. A place where their history comes to life, as they look forward to the future.

“The special thing is that this is our story told by us. We want the general public to come in, experience that, learn who we are as a people,” Miller said.

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While much of the center is only open to community members, the public exhibit is open year-round. There are also additional dates when people can visit.

John Lauritsen