Our Heart Drum, Mnisota

Written by

Tanaǧidaŋ To Wiŋ

When you greet her, treat her with respect. Over the years, she’s been trampled on, misrepresented, unheard, and claimed for filthy profit. She may look worn, but you will honor her and step gently upon her when you greet her! Her heart is older than the concept of man.

She holds the stories of all of my ancestors, our gracious mother Maka Unci (Mother Earth). Our great Mississippi river holds our tears and dreams.

I first met my fifth great-grandmother at the banks of our great Wakpa Tanka (Mississippi river). I see her amongst the trees, and together we sing about future generations as the sun sets across our Dakota Makoce (Dakota land). You can’t get to know our people and culture without knowing our water and land. We are created as one; we grow together. We still follow the footsteps of our relatives, as they fought for us to be here today, back in 1862. The stories of families who were forced to walk, bones aching, families torn apart, and young ones crying. This land witnessed it all. She carries the pain of our people, and with our love, we heal together. We remember our Dakota 38 + 2 relatives who endured the unthinkable and the families who were forcibly removed – exiled from our birthplace. We say their names and honor their stories. We speak our language, so their voices live on.

Damakota (I AM DAKOTA), my sons whisper to the chokecherry bushes. Eager to meet each plant relative and learn all they have to share. Young indigenous men who carry the vision of thousands of elders in their hearts. One day they will feed the needs of our community – feeding stories of hope and resilience. We are a community that feasts on memories and love. We prophesied seven generations ahead. We pull love from the past and plant it into the future! That is what the cycle of Maka Unci has taught us.

We still pray to that sacred circle, the four directions, four seasons of life. Our grandfathers teach us that we are the particles of stars who danced with that life-giving water. Beautiful star beings on a sacred journey! We were sent here with purpose.This land remembers a young boy who painted himself blue, searching for his Ina (mom) in the midst of the Cottonwood trees of Imniza Ska (Saint Paul). Her song still flows through the leaves here. Their hearts connected here, free to sing, dance, speak, and pray without fear here. A journey remembered here. Now, that boy dances alongside his mother, deep in that star nation. All that love passed down and swirling through the roots of the trees – right here! To this very day, that drum still beats here, that song still flows here, and a blue hummingbird flies gloriously in four directions to remind the ancestors she STILL hears them loud and clear. She is not the only one.

In the heart of the city, Wakan Tipi will rise up with the strength of the Cottonwood trees, and healing will grow from the seeds we all plant. With the hearts of many relatives, restoration will begin. Great teachings of our language, our relationship with the land, and traditional ways will preserve all of our cultural beauty.

On Sundays, I visit the very birthplace of my people, Bdote, a great coming together of two sacred bodies of water. The very smell of this place creates a vivid heart memory of the past, reminding me there is no death here, only life, only transition. That forever red circle. The water trickles softly off the stones and tells a story of deep roots, prayers, and fortitude. My bare feet softly remember each creek just as blood running through my veins. We are not separate entities, we are the love language of our gracious creator. There is a Cold Spring that still flows here in Mnisota today because our community stood up, spoke out, and fought for the rights of our beautiful water. This Cold Spring holds a spiritual significance and a powerful history of our relatives and their relationship to the water. Our water deserves to be spoken for, she is the bearer of all life!

One day, I will sit at the shores of these waters and teach my grandchildren how to pray and fight for a spirit that has kept us alive since the beginning of time! Long ago I was the student, learning from the elders before me. Soon I will become the teacher, teaching all the young ones who will come after me. Although I have lived through many winters, I am always learning. I have all my teachings embedded in my heart: I pray with my left hand as I was taught by all the elders before me. I fast when it is my time. I honor my moon cycle as a strong feminine gift, sharing our blood cloth enriched with each birth. I sing the flowers into bloom in the springtime. I do all my storytelling in the winter and hibernate to rejuvenate my spirit, like our animal relatives. This is our way, an ancestral memory poem written in the streams, life stories between the stones.

All of these gifts left here are meant to help us along our path – I am beyond grateful. So now, I will never forget our connection to all that once was and still is. We are the walking, living, breathing prayers of our people. There is not one moment I take this for granted, not one. This home is my heart, and my heart is this home. I walk the footsteps of my ancestors every day, and I am grateful. This land you are standing on carries the stories, tears, and dreams of all the ancestors before me. This land, she is ALIVE! She is mysterious, courageous, compassionate, forgiving, and a force to be reckoned with. A beautiful mother willing to teach, willing to feed, and willing to love All, beyond human understanding.

When you greet her, greet her with respect. Over the years, she’s been trampled on, misrepresented, unheard, and claimed for filthy profit. She may look worn, but you WILL HONOR HER and step gently upon her when you greet her! Her heart is older than the concept of man. 

She is the purest form of unconditional love you will ever know, our sacred beating heart, Mnisota!

Tanaǧidaŋ To Wiŋ

Northern Plains

Tara Perron Tanaǧidaŋ To Wiŋ is a Dakota and Ojibwe mother. She grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She studied Dakota language and culture at Metro State University. She is the author of Takoza: Walks With the Blue Moon Girl, Animals of Khéya Wíta, and Animals of Nimaamaa-Aki. Tara is inspired by the loving hearts of her sons: she is a creator, plant medicine enthusiast, and has always loved to write. She believes in the healing power of storytelling.