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Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Partners with the MIA

Rebecca Crooks, of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, joins MIA Associate Curator Joe Horse Capture in a tour of "Art of the Native Americans: The Thaw Collection."

IT’S NOT OFTEN that a museum is able to count a sovereign nation among its personal friends. But just twenty miles from the front steps of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, nestled between Prior Lake and Shakopee, our closest nation, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC), champions the MIA’s effort to bolster understanding of Native American art. The SMSC partnered with the museum first by co-sponsoring the Fenimore Art Museum’s exhibition “Art of the Native Americans: The Thaw Collection,” on view at the MIA last winter, and second by funding an internship program to train Native American art curators.

SMSC has long made its heritage and culture a priority. In 1969 the tribe regained its former status as an independent, sovereign nation for the first time in 150 years. Recovering from forced dependence on the United States has not been easy, say community members, but SMSC’s strategy takes the long view: build a strong community and preserve Dakota (Sioux) culture.

This approach has paid off. “We have a level of self-sufficiency that didn’t seem possible when we were growing up,” writes Stanley R. Crooks, SMSC chairman. “Our children have health care, housing, and educational opportunities that we could only dream of forty years ago.”

This success has allowed SMSC to invest not only within its own nation but also in the broader community. Working with local communities and being a good neighbor are central to the tribe’s philosophy. One part of this effort has been to support education and raise awareness of Native American cultures and their contributions to history.

“It is important for the United States to tell the true history of relations with Indian Nations,” Crooks said. “So much has been left out of the history books, and what is taught in the educational system is insufficient. The result is that public knowledge on this subject is sadly lacking.”

The two sponsorships by SMSC have allowed the MIA to improve that public knowledge. The curatorial internship program offers professional training to Native Americans with art history backgrounds. “This program is a great opportunity for Native American students to study and work with the objects their ancestors created,” said Joe Horse Capture, the MIA’s associate curator of Native American Art.

This is also a key reason for the community’s sponsorship of “Art of the Native Americans: The Thaw Collection.” Rather than sponsoring one particular object, SMSC chose to support the entire exhibition. The Thaw exhibition was the first show of its kind at the MIA since 1972: a survey of Native American masterpieces from every part of North America, representing dozens of Native traditions.

During the exhibition, the museum hosted more than 1,400 students from Native American schools and tens of thousands of visitors from all backgrounds. “Visitors saw some of the finest works of art from Native America in this exhibition,” Horse Capture said. “With the internship program, this exhibition, and our permanent collection of Native American art, we are able to present our visitors with a more complete understanding of Native American art and culture.”

~ Drew Jacob
corporate relations associate


Join the Minneapolis Institute of Arts Native American Art Affinity Group.


Above: Children take part in art activities related to Native American art.
Above Left: Families were fascinated by Yupik Dance Fans in the exhibition.