Former MCC director trades inheritance for justice
Cyclist uses 2,000-mile bike trip for land advocacyBy Tina Schrag and Linda Espenshade Mennonite Central Committee
GLENCOE, Minn. — As John Stoesz pedals his recumbent trike down County Road 22 in southern Minnesota, he faces two realities — the dedication of today’s farmers to the land and the conspicuous absence of Dakota people on their ancestral land.
He passes row after row of perfectly straight lines of corn, hugging each side of the road. More than 150 years ago, buffalo would have roamed here, drinking from the “sky-tinted water” — the meaning of Minnesota as named by the Dakota.
The richness of the black soil that will soon yield a profitable harvest of tall corn and bountiful soybeans stands in contrast to the forceful evacuation of the Dakota people in 1862.
The former executive director of Mennonite Central Committee Central States is calling attention to the injustices perpetrated on the Dakota people and the subsequent advantages to white settlers and their descendants as he bicycles 2,000 miles through former Dakota land.
Stoesz strategically planned his September and October trip through 40 counties, where he coordinates interviews with newspaper reporters and chats with people along the way. Halfway through the trip, he had already conducted 18 interviews in 20 towns, including his hometown of Mountain Lake.
“Many of us continue to benefit from the land that was settled by our European ancestors,” Stoesz wrote in emails to newspaper editors. “As we know, this land was taken from Dakota people, almost all of whom were killed or forcibly removed from the state.”
The forced exodus of the Dakota people and subsequent bounty paid for Dakota scalps took place during and after the U.S.-Dakota war of 1862.
About 800 white settlers and an unknown number of Dakota were killed in the war. Many more Dakota people, including women and children, died in captivity and on the forced march out of the state.
Just 12 years after the war, Stoesz’s great-grandfather, a Mennonite immigrant farmer from Ukraine, received land through the railroad like many other immigrants. Stoesz’s grandfather later owned 320 acres, also former Dakota land, near his father.
Last year, Stoesz’s family decided to sell their grandfather’s farm, forcing him decide what to do with the profit of land taken from the Dakota.
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