The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the Upper Sioux Community this week unveiled four new dual-language highway signs in the Dakota language and in English.
The signs, marking the tribal boundaries near the southwest Minnesota Yellow Medicine River read "Peźihutazizi Kapi Makoće Land Where They Dig the Yellow Medicine" alongside the tribe's seal.
These are the first Minnesota highway signs using the name a tribe culturally defined themselves, rather than a name given them by another government, said Levi Brown, MnDOT's director of tribal affairs.
Brown, who works with the state's 11 tribal nations, said it's a powerful form of recognition for the tribes.
"These signs represent a shift that we are here, as part of the United States, as part of Minnesota. That cloak of invisibility is fading away," Brown said.
Grand Portage, Red Lake, Fond du Lac, Leech Lake, White Earth, Lower Sioux and Mille Lacs all have dual-language signs at their borders.
The new collaboration was a long time coming, said Tribal Chair Kevin Jensvold. Historically, the Dakota language is an oral language, he said, and selecting the right characters and verbiage along with MnDOT's sign standards was a challenge.
Yellow Medicine is the name of the medicinal plant called blue moon seed found alongside the river and of the county home of the Upper Sioux. While many places in Minnesota have Dakota names, yellow medicine is how the tribe identifies their people as caretakers of that land, Jensvold said.
"It's just a matter of people educating themselves on the true history of Minnesota. If you truly want to talk about identifiers and whatnot, those are already in place," Jensvold said.
"It's just society and the public in general don't equate those to our language or our history of Minnesota as Dakota homeland."
He said MnDOT's effort to acknowledge the place and its history is appreciated.