SMSC makes another investment in Native American education

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With the SMSC grant, the suburban park district will work with a Dakota Advisory Group to develop a trail for visitors and develop education materials at the Lowry Nature Center in the Carver Park Reserve that will help the public and school children to learn more about Native people in Minnesota.

By Lee Egerstrom

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) is providing an $80,000 grant to Three Rivers Park District to develop education programming at its Lowry Nature Center in the Carver Park Reserve in the western region of the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

The center is located in the Carver Park Reserve at Victoria. It is an active site for education groups and programming in the 3,719-acre compound. It was visited by 43,000 people in 2022, including participants in 280 public programs and 575 school field trips.

With the SMSC grant, the suburban park district will work with a Dakota Advisory Group to develop a trail for visitors and develop education materials that will help the public and school children to learn more about Native people in Minnesota, and the area’s ties to Native culture and the environment.

Rebecca Crooks-Stratton, SMSC secretary/treasurer, said in announcing the grant that it is a continuation of the community’s Understand Native Minnesota effort launched in 2019 to improve Native American education in Minnesota schools.

“We are excited to support the Three Rivers Park District’s efforts to incorporate Native American perspectives into its mainstream interpretative work,” she said.

“As part of our tribe’s efforts to enhance the Native narrative in Minnesota school systems, this interpretive trail will bring greater awareness of the Dakota people who occupied the lands in what is today’s Minnesota.”

Crooks-Stratton is chair of SMSC’s Understand Native Minnesota campaign. It committed $5 million to this educational effort when the program was launched.

Three Rivers Park District is a unique park reserve and public parks operating unit for suburban communities in Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Carver counties. The name of the district reflects the Minnesota, Mississippi and Crow rivers that run through key territories historically linked to the Dakota and, to a lesser extent, the Anishinaabeg original people of the region.

Lowry Nature Center is the original public nature center in Minnesota and is part of four centers now operated by the Three Rivers Park District.

Allison Neaton, education supervisor at Lowry Nature Center, said in the announcement that school groups have come to the center over the years to learn about Dakota traditions. “We are excited to collaborate with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and other Dakota people to accurately and authentically interpret Dakota perspectives on natural resources in Carver Park.”

The program being launched calls for establishing an interpretive trail showing Dakota perspectives on national resources within Carver Park Preserve. The Three Rivers project team will consult with SMSC and work with the Dakota Advisory Group of elders and cultural advisors for guidance on Dakota language and perspectives on relationships with plants found along the trail.

Three Rivers Park District and its multiple park sites are well known in the metropolitan area for recreational activities for all four Minnesota seasons. That includes swimming, boating, downhill skiing, snowboarding, camping and sledding, as well as hiking and biking.

But it also has extensive educational programs for nature and for promoting historic and regional farm education. The program being developed at Lowry Nature Center is clearly an extension of this educational objective.

The park district has more than 27,000 acres of land in parks scattered among the four counties, and hosts more than 12.5 million visitors a year.