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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • Riding for a Purpose

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  • Anyone who decides to bicycle through 40 Minnesota counties as the weather begins to chill in September and October must have an excellent reason, and John Stoesz was certainly highly motivated; he decided to complete his cycling tour in order to promote sharing of the land with the Dakota people. “As we know, this land was taken from Dakota people, almost all of whom were killed or forcibly removed from the state,” he explained. “Now, we have an opportunity to restore some of the land to its original inhabitants through contributions to a Dakota nonprofit organization named Oyate Nipi Kte (The People Shall Live)." Watonwan County--which he rolled into Friday--was his final stop in the 40-county marathon, and he stopped at each county seat during his journey. He hails originally from Mountain Lake, a small town in Cottonwood County, but he has local family routes--his great-grandfather settled in Watonwan County in 1874. That's why he began his trip in Cottonwood County and concluded it in Watonwan County. His family recently sold their farm land, and Stoesz decided to donate half his share of the proceeds to Native American groups working on land justice. In order to complete the ride, he's taken leave from his position as executive director of Mennonite Central Committee Central States--a $5 million dollar a year relief, development, and peace organization. The MCC Central States region encompasses 16 states, including Minnesota. While there, he worked on the organizations's Indigenous Vision Center program, which put him in touch with a Dakota. Due to that heightened awareness, and the selling of his family's land, he felt compelled to take action, and he was able to link up with www.oyatenipikte.org. The website, Oyate Bipi Kte, is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit “dedicated to supporting the recovery of Dakota traditional knowledge, including Dakota language, spirituality, ecology, oral tradition and life ways,” according to their online mission statement. today.” According to Waziyatawin, founder and council member of Oyate Nipi Kte, “Dakota people have been systematically dispossessed of our homeland and we currently reside on about 0.01 percent of our original land base within the borders of what is now the State of Minnesota.” “Oyate Nipi Kte is committed to restoring a land base for Dakota people through the Makoce Ikikcu project so that we may begin to bring some of our relatives home, re-establish our spiritual and physical relationship with our homeland, and ensure the ongoing existence of our People,” she continued. “Our last fluent speakers of Dakota language in Minnesota number less than ten and are now all over the age of 70. Our dream, then, is to establish a land base in which Dakota people may establish new communities within our homeland based on sustainability and adherence to our ancient ways of being.” Stoesz said he's always had an innate sense of the injustice done to Native Americans. “I wanted to do something, and it had been gnawing at me for quite awhile,” he said. “I love riding my bike, and I thought I could raise awareness that way.” Stoesz said September was quite warm--with most days in the 70s, and a few in the 90s--and the weather was hospitable enough for him to camp most nights. Over the final couple weeks of his quest, however, he spent his nights in hotels. “30 degree days are a lot different,” he said. “That's too cold for camping.” His days had similar routines, he said. He rode from county seat to county seat in the mornings, then had lunch and checked his email at a local library, and then usually stopped for an interview with a local news outlet. His shorter trips were 20 miles per day, and the longer ones were 50-60 miles, he said. He was thankful for the preponderance of bike trails, and when those weren't available, he rode on paved county roads, because state highways were much too busy and dangerous. For the full story, please see Thursday's print edition of the St. James Plaindealer.
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