Research into the history of the Minnesota River on Eden Prairie’s southern boundary has uncovered more knowledge about the Indigenous people who were our earlier residents. But, it’s also a reminder about how little is known and shared about this portion of EP’s past.
Paul Thorp, a member of the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC), related to his colleagues this fall that, while reviewing 1854 government survey records to document the river and its precise path, he had uncovered additional information about Native American Minnie Otherday and her family.
Minnie is said to have been born July 24, 1877, on the Eden Prairie side of the Minnesota River, on 18 acres of land her family purchased in 1871 from Harriet and Jarvis Washburn Sencerbox, subject to a two-year mortgage of $230. Thorp has assembled a timeline of the property’s title records showing that the Otherdays and relatives held the property into the 1930s; eventually, it was sold to Severin Peterson, whose family members are longtime farmers of this area and still own the land today.
Postcards from the early 1900s also appear to show Minnie and family members photographed in front of the home that existed on the Eden Prairie property.
Minnie married Charles “Chuck” Weldon in 1908, according to the obituary in the Shakopee Argus newspaper, and they had five children: four boys and a girl. One of Minnie’s grandsons, Charlie Vig, would serve as chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community from 2012 until his retirement in late 2019.
In writing about Vig’s new role, the Star Tribune newspaper in 2012 noted that his grandmother, Minnie, was descended from John Otherday – some records spell it Other Day – who is credited with saving dozens of settlers and government workers during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
“She was locally famous for making craft things, moccasins, and dolls for the girls” and selling them to area residents, said Thorp. “The story was that they would live here in the summer, then in the winter they’d go back to the south side of the river, to Shakopee.”
But many stories specific to Eden Prairie’s Indigenous past before pioneer settlement in the mid-1800s remain untold by groups like HPC or Eden Prairie Historical Society. Local officials say they are stories best told by the descendants of those residents and the tribes to which they belonged.
HPC efforts to glean historical information from the tribes haven’t been fruitful, Thorp said. “They’ve made it really, really clear that they want to tell their own history,” he said. “They’re not interested in the white man telling their history anymore.”
Thorp sees logic in their stand, noting that many histories portray local Indigenous residents in a negative and condescending way. “So, I can see why they’re sensitive about that,” he said. “I would like to be able to do anything … to heal those wounds and divisions. But it’s pretty deeply ingrained.
“I’d like to tell the story because it’s a great story, number one, and I think it’s an important story for Eden Prairie.”
Kathie Case, president of the Eden Prairie Historical Society, is also hopeful about finding and sharing more stories from EP’s Indigenous past. “We’re not there yet,” she said.
“We tread carefully when we tell our Native American history, because it’s their story to tell, not our story to tell,” said Case. “We don’t want to misrepresent their narrative.”
Files at the Eden Prairie History Museum located at the Eden Prairie City Center, however, do contain information about local Native American ceremony sites, burial mounds, ossuaries, and more. People “are welcome to come in and look in our files,” she added. Among the museum’s few artifacts showing Native American culture is a set of baby booties that Minnie Otherday would routinely make for Eden Prairie newborns.
Eden Prairie has made gains in other efforts to recognize the community’s pre-pioneer past. It was, for example, one of the first cities in Minnesota to publicly recognize that the land we inhabit once belonged to Indigenous people. The city, through its Human Rights and Diversity Commission and partners in the annual PeopleFest celebration, did so by crafting sample “land acknowledgement statements” that can be read at community celebrations and are recited before HPC meetings. Native American dance ceremonies have been a part of PeopleFest as well.
An archaeological dig that preceded the improvement of Flying Cloud Drive along the river valley in Eden Prairie unearthed additional history of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux, a community of the Dakota nation that thrived alongside the banks of Mni Sota Wakpa, or Minnesota River.
In terms of services for today’s Native American residents, Eden Prairie Schools employ an American Indian cultural liaison to provide support to its Indigenous population within the district, according to Reta Johnson, a family resource specialist with the school district. This staff member also sends out parent newsletters and hosts parent support groups to discuss school resources and happenings within the district, she said.
As for Eden Prairie’s Indigenous past, the best source of information for those interested may be Hocokata Ti, the cultural center that the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community constructed and opened in 2019 to preserve and exhibit traditional Mdewakanton Sioux cultural heritage, language, and history.
It has a 3,805-square-foot public exhibit, “Mdewakanton: Dwellers of the Spirit Lake,” that focuses on the Mdewakanton Dakota people and their history. The cultural center is located at 2300 Tiwahe Circle, Shakopee. For hours of operation and admission costs, go to hocokatati.org.
The Minnesota History Center in St. Paul also currently has a featured exhibit called “Our Home: Native Minnesota” that provides history and contemporary stories about native communities in Minnesota, “including stories of survival, resiliency, and adaptation,” according to its website.
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