restricted access Chapter 6: Work, Gender, and the Dakota Church
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A s 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 family members, as generations of women had always done, and they also made other items for sale, as women had begun to do in the 1840s. They made moccasins, pouches, and garments decorated with the quillwork and beadwork of their grandmothers in Minnesota, but they also created pieces of art that reflected their new circumstances. They adapted traditional beadwork and quillwork, for instance, to ornament book covers for their Dakota Odowan and Wakan Cekiye Odowan, the missionaries ’ Dakota-language hymnals. Women also took up quilting, transforming into the characteristically Dakota design the eight-pointed star pattern they learned from missionaries. Protestant missionaries had worked hard to alleviate Dakota su¤ering and lobbied U.S. military and civilian powers to improve the conditions of internment in the three and a half years after the U.S.–Dakota War. Once the Dakota were reunited, missionaries went to work building churches and schools, first at Santee and then at Flandreau. This way the Dakota who had converted to Christianity at Fort Snelling, Mankato, Davenport, and Crow Creek could pursue their new beliefs and practices 143 chapter 6 Work, Gender, and the Dakota Church 06chap6_Manu 2/17/2012 07:32 Page 143 in their own churches. Church buildings themselves became prominent features on the landscape. By the turn of the twentieth century, the Flandreau Dakota community, with a population of four hundred, was served by one Presbyterian church and one Episcopalian church. The Santee reservation, with a population of approximately one thousand, was served by three Episcopalian churches and two Congregational churches.1 When the Dakota joined churches, they did not passively file into an alien and alienating institution. Instead, they transformed the Episcopalian , Congregational, and Presbyterian churches into resources for employment, leadership roles, and community activity that supplanted 144 Dakota Women’s Work Episcopalian hymnal, published in 1894, with deerskin cover decorated with quillwork. Donated to Nebraska State Historical Society by Lily B. Munroe, who worked as a teacher on the Rosebud reservation from 1900 to 1905. Artist unknown. 06chap6_Manu 2/17/2012 07:32 Page 144 Wakan Cekiye Odowan (Holy Prayer Hymnal), Episcopalian hymnal published in 1894, with deerskin cover decorated with quillwork, owned by Edna Peninger Biller (1879–1952), whose husband, Reverend George Biller, served as an Episcopalian priest on the Rosebud reservation between 1908 and 1912 and as bishop of South Dakota from 1912 to 1915. Artist unknown; National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. 06chap6_Manu 2/17/2012 07:32 Page 145 structures lost in removal. These churches also promoted the creation of art, both in its traditional forms and in the new forms that Dakota women were developing. Recent discussions of relations between churches and Native peoples have frequently focused largely on Catholic and Protestant churches as forces of colonization and genocide. It is true that Christian teachings, church-sponsored boarding schools, and missionary work among Indigenous peoples frequently worked to eradicate Native practices and the entire cultural edifice within which they existed. The devastation wrought in the name of Christian beliefs continues to be felt by Native peoples to this day. Studying relations between churches and Native peoples only from the perspective of colonization, however, eliminates the possibility of understanding how Native peoples themselves experienced contact with missionaries, Christian clergy, and the church. While it is impossible to ignore religious institutions’ assault on Indigenous cultures, it is equally impossible to ignore Native peoples’ embracing of church life in many di¤erent ways.2 Men and women at Santee and Flandreau were fully engaged with the church. Even while working under the watchful eyes of missionaries , Dakota transformed traditional churches into their own institutions. Through churches, Dakota men found employment and roles in their communities not otherwise available. A small number of women also found limited employment, but far more found spaces in which to reestablish the bonds that had woven them together in Dakota communities in Minnesota. Missionaries created women’s groups, especially the winyan omniciye or Ladies’ Aid Societies, which brought women together to revive their creative work. Of course, the larger purpose of the winyan omniciye was to raise money for church work, and women’s needlework was...


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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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