The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) will host an exhibit this year at the Minnesota State Fair, marking the first time that the tribe, and likely any tribal government, has had a presence at the fair.
"We believe this is the first time any tribal community has had a booth at the State Fair," said Rebecca Crooks-Stratton, SMSC tribal secretary and treasurer.
The booth, which will be in the education building, will teach visitors about Minnesota's 11 tribal nations as well as the Prior Lake-based tribe's past and present.
There have been Native American exhibits at the State Fair before, such as traveling exhibits in the 1890s set up like Native villages, said Jerry Hammer, the fair's general manager.
"But not like this," he said. "[There's been] nothing that's representative of all 11 Native American communities, nothing that focuses on how Native culture is just woven into Minnesota society."
Crooks-Stratton said the idea arose from conversations among tribal council members in 2019 when the group was discussing the lack of tribal representation at the State Fair.
"[We were] thinking, with all the work we're doing on educating folks … wouldn't it be great to have the opportunity to educate a large segment of Minnesota not just about SMSC but tribes in general?" she said.
Fair officials were enthusiastic and found the tribe a spot, Crooks-Stratton said.
Tribal officials had a booth designed featuring a nearly 12-foot-tall tepee that people can walk through, something like an underpass, she said. It's still being finished.
Visitors will hear the sound of drums, see pictures of tribal members dressed in regalia and read about the tribe's history and current projects. Tribal members will staff the booth and give out tote bags and print material.
Educational panels will touch on Minnesota's tribal nations as a whole, with special emphasis on the Shakopee community. Panel topics will include the tribe's "Understand Native Minnesota" campaign, which seeks to improve curriculum about Native Americans in Minnesota schools, and information on such environmental topics as prairie burns. Other subjects may be tribal sovereignty and the evolution of tribal economies, she said.
The booth will direct people to the Hoċokata Ti cultural center in Shakopee to view the "Mdewakanton: Dwellers of the Spirit Lake" exhibit on display there.
Crooks-Stratton said tribal members have always focused on education and made significant progress in helping the public understand who they are, what they do and why.
"I think it's really important for Minnesotans to know that tribes are still here, that they're modern communities," she said. Whether the booth will return next year depends on how it goes this summer, she said.
There are 800 educational or commercial spots at the fair, which is scheduled for Aug. 26-Sept. 6, Hammer said. Some exhibits stay only a year and others return for decades, he said, with turnover at 20 to 25% for nonfood exhibits.
"When something like this comes along, you find room," Hammer said of the exhibit. "This is exactly what we're all about."
Erin Adler • 612-673-1781