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Dakota Women's Work

Creativity, Culture, and Exile

By Colette Hyman

Publication Year: 2012

A tiny pair of beaded deerskin moccasins, given to a baby in 1913, provides the starting point for this thoughtful examination of the work of Dakota women. Mary Eastman Faribault, born in Minnesota, made them almost four decades after the U.S.–Dakota War of 1862. This and other ornately decorated objects created by Dakota women—cradleboards, clothing, animal skin containers—served more than a utilitarian function. They tell the story of colonization, genocide, and survival. Author Colette Hyman traces the changes in the lives of Dakota women, starting before the arrival of whites and covering the fur trade, the years of treaties and shrinking lands, the brutal time of removal, starvation, and shattered families after 1862—and then the transition to reservation life, when missionaries and government agents worked to turn the Dakota into Christian farmers. The decorative work of Dakota women reflected all of this: native organic dyes and quillwork gave way to beading and needlework, items traditionally decorated for family gifts were produced to sell to tourists and white collectors, work on cradleboards and animal skin bags shifted to the ornamenting of hymnals and the creation of star quilts. Through it all, the work of Dakota women proclaims and retains Dakota identity: it is a testament to the endurance of Dakota traditions, to the survival of the Dakota in exile, and—most vividly—to the role of women in that survival.

Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press


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Half Title Page

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Title Page

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Introduction: Women, Work, and Survival

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pp. 3-16

When Lillian Beane was born in 1911, her great-aunt Mary Eastman Faribault made her a pair of deerskin moccasins beaded with a floral design characteristic of their people, the Eastern Dakota. These carefully protected moccasins have remained in the family for more than a century. They honor the memory...

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Chapter 1: Work, Art, and Dakota Subsistence

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pp. 17-38

In 1813, a Dakota woman gave birth to a daughter who would later be known as Wicacaka, Like a Man, because of her physical strength and ability to perform much of men’s work. Wicacaka was also a talented creator of quilled and beaded garments and equipment. As a young woman growing up in the Dakota homelands, she learned...

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Chapter 2: The Fur Trade and the Treaty of 1837

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pp. 39-66

On February 11, 1845, Cankudutawin, Red Road Woman, left the trading post at Mendota with a large tin kettle, a scarlet blanket, and some lace, as well as gun powder, hunting equipment, and other supplies. Between that time and November 6, 1846, she came back seven more times, acquiring, among other things, a calico shirt...

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Chapter 3: Gender and Resistance

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pp. 67-92

In a memoir written late in life, Mary Huggins Kerlinger, the daughter of missionaries to the Dakota, described life at the Lac qui Parle mission in the 1840s and 1850s. The family home was always full, especially when her parents invited nearby Wahpetunwan families to visit with their children in order to learn the ways of white Christians...

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Chapter 4: Separate Survival

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pp. 93-118

There is no fancy work remaining from the years immediately following the U.S.–Dakota War—no beadwork, no quillwork, no moccasins, no cradleboards. The genocidal actions of the federal government severed the Dakota from cultural expressions and everything but their most basic physical necessities. Men did not...

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Chapter 5: Dakota Tradition at Santee and Flandreau

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pp. 119-142

Around 1900, John and Mary Jane Eastman posed for a family portrait with six of their eight children and their dog. Showing all attired in their Sunday best, the photo suggests a comfortable family well-versed in the conventions of middle-class American culture. One detail, however, suggests a more complicated relationship to American culture: the beadwork ornamentation on Mary...

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Chapter 6: Work, Gender, and the Dakota Church

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pp. 143-170

As the Dakota went about the daunting task of rebuilding their communities in Santee and Flandreau, women returned to one of the central activities that had shaped their lives in Minnesota: creating functional works of art. Now, however, they engaged in this work with multiple purposes. Women made some items for use by...

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Epilogue: Indian Renaissance and Dakota Women’s Art

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pp. 171-182

Each year since 2004, the city of Winona, Minnesota, located where Wabasha’s band of Mdewakantunwan Dakota once had its summer encampment, has hosted a Dakota Homecoming— in the Dakota language, Hdihunipi, They Return Home. The event was originally planned as a rebuttal to a much-publicized series of activities commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Grand Excursion, a visit up...

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pp. 183-188

Dakota Women’s Work stands as a testimony to the many Dakota women and men who have provided much assistance and guidance for this project, starting with Edith Bickersta¤ at Santee and William Beane at Flandreau, who spent many long days introducing me to friends and relatives, helping arrange interviews, and participating in many themselves. In addition, William Beane most generously shared with me vast...


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pp. 189-210


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pp. 211-224


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pp. 225-238

Illustration Credits

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pp. 239-240

Back cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780873518581
E-ISBN-10: 0873518586
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873518505
Print-ISBN-10: 0873518500

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 31 b&w photos, notes, index, tables
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 809317657
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Dakota Women's Work

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Dakota women -- History.
  • Dakota women -- Social conditions.
  • Dakota women -- Economic conditions.
  • Dakota Indians -- Industries.
  • Dakota beadwork.
  • Indian leatherwork.
  • Quillwork.
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