To the sound of drumming, singing and performances by traditional dancers, St. Paul Indigenous leaders and community members marked Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday by dedicating the land that will become the new Wakan Tipi Center.

Three acres of land at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary will soon become a cultural and environmental interpretive center surrounding the sacred cave where Dakota leaders once made alliances with other tribes. The center will feature both community gathering spaces and opportunities to learn about Dakota culture.

After years of fundraising and $4 million in bonding from the state Legislature, the center will break ground this fall, and will open in 2023.

The initiative to revitalize the sacred meeting space was led by the Lower Phalen Creek Project, a Native-led nonprofit in St. Paul. Executive Director Maggie Lorenz, who is Dakota, said she remembers how magical the cave was to her as a child, and recalled her mother and aunts telling her stories about their ancestors.

"Our people have endured genocide on this land. My family was one of the countless families that lost that connection because of those policies," Lorenz said.

She has long felt a desire to reconnect with her culture in an authentic way — which wasn't easy. Now, young Dakota people like her granddaughter will have a place close to home to learn and explore their Dakota history.

"This place is going to offer a healing salve for our people to put on those wounds of historical trauma, a place where we can reconnect to our culture and our language and our ceremonies," Lorenz said.

For non-Native Minnesotans, it will be a place for people to truly understand Native Minnesota, and the lives and causes of Indigenous people, said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, the first American Indian woman to become lieutenant governor of Minnesota. The center shows what is possible for Indigenous people, she said.

"As an Indigenous woman I know the importance of keeping places that are sacred, valued and appreciated, and the Wakan Tipi Center will do exactly that," Flanagan said.

Flanagan has led a push for Indigenous education in Minnesota schools, with the goal of making sure all students, Pre-K to 12th grade, will know about Indigenous people and their mark on the state.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter congratulated those involved in the Wakan Tipi Center over the years. He also took a somber note, in light of the mass shooting in the city Sunday that killed one woman and injured 14 others.

The need for peace in the community cannot be separated from the need for justice in communities and in our lands, said Carter.

"The events of this last weekend are in some ways shocking, unusual events especially for our community, and they also exist in the context of events that have occurred over the past year, over the past two years," Carter said. "We know that we've lost too many lives."

Lorenz asked the community to stay involved in the effort leading up to the center's planned opening in 2023.

"This place is holy and mysterious, and the ancestors of the spirits have chosen this time to reclaim this place. Everybody that is here today, they have chosen you as their helpers," Lorenz said. "We are all here to make this happen."

612-673-7112 • @zoemjack