50th annual Mahkato Wacipi creates unity

This past weekend, Land of Memories Park in Mankato hosted the 50th annual Dakota Wacipi, or pow-wow. The Wacipi was attended by natives and non-natives from across the Midwest and celebrated Dakota culture in the spirit of reconciliation. 

The Wacipi began on Friday with education day, a program for Mankato area sixth graders, where they learned about Dakota history from community elders as part of their Minnesota history curriculum. 

Megan Heutmaker is the coordinator for education day with the Wacipi, as well as the director of the American Indian Affairs office at Minnesota State University, Mankato. 

“As they’re learning about Minnesota’s history, [students] get to come here and have hands-on experiences with our elders. I think that’s what really sticks with you– when you get to live and hear and listen to people who have these stories to share,” Heutmaker said. 

At 7 p.m. Friday, the Grand Entrance began for registered dancers. The Mahkato Wacipi is a traditional pow-wow instead of a contest pow-wow. In a traditional pow-wow, registered dancers receive $20 for participating and keeping the tradition alive. 

As the sun set, dancers entered the arena to kick off the weekend. All ages participated– community elders danced, as did tiny toddlers. After the Grand Entrance, which took place three more times throughout the weekend, the announcer called an inter-tribal where anyone may dance regardless of if they wore regalia. 

Some dancers came to the Wacipi from across the Midwest, like Todd Runnels and his daughter, Danica Runnels, from Nebraska. 

“This is one of the pow-wows we like coming to. Everyone here is really friendly– from the volunteers parking cars, to the concessions, to the other dancers. This one stands out,” said Todd Runnels. 

“It’s inclusive to everyone. I’ve been dancing since I could walk. It’s something that brings me joy and brings other people joy,” added Danica Runnels.  

11-year-old Carissa Espinoza was another dancer on Friday night, who previously won the title “Miss Lower Sioux” with a speech about how she would represent the Lower Sioux and a dance. 

“I really like to dance. It makes me feel alive. I get to be myself when I dance, and I just feel happy,” Espinoza said. 

MSU had a presence at the Wacipi through a booth with information for prospective students and community members interested in Indigenous Peoples Day events on campus. 

MSU students were at the booth as well as Heutmaker, including freshman Tamera Smith.

“I have friends that are native, and I wanted to learn more about the Wacipi,” Smith said. 

Near the entrance to the grounds was the education tent where spectators could learn more about the U.S.-Dakota War, and the Dakota 38. This execution was the largest in American history, and happened in 1862 in Mankato. The tent also had information about modern issues, such as the high rates that Indigenous women go missing in the U.S. compared to other groups and the lasting impacts of Native American boarding schools.

The Mahkato Wacipi is made possible by a volunteer committee that does the planning for each year. For committee leader David Brave Heart, this Wacipi is his final one serving the community in this way. Brave Heart suffers from ALS, and is stepping down after this year. 

“Everyone in a leadership position wants a well-oiled machine that empowers all the volunteers and workers. At what point are we going to pass that on to the next leaders? I like the term ‘service leadership’. I lead by example, and try to build a solid community,” Brave Heart said. 

In addition to dancing, those who attended had access to countless vendors selling anything from jewelry, regalia materials, and musical instruments. There was also an abundance of concessions for dancers to fuel themselves through the weekend. 

Even with all the other aspects of the Wacipi, Brave Heart’s focus always comes back to the history of the Mahkato Wacipi. 

“My favorite memories are always the Grand Entries. They happen for the people and have the spirit of people coming together– visiting, laughing, telling jokes. But keep your eye on the reason we’re here– to reconcile what happened in 1862. We’re trying to change a narrative on both sides. To me, that’s what means the most,” Brave Heart said.

Header Photo: Several dancers participated in the Dakota Wacipi over the weekend. Dancers of all ages participated in the grand entrance to the arena. (Dylan Engel/The Reporter)

Write to Alexandra Tostrud at

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