This week’s article was written by Club Y.E.S. volunteer Neha Kodali.
French Regional Park, previously known as Medicine Lake Regional Park, was named after Clifton E. French, the first superintendent of the Three Rivers Park District. The Three Rivers Park District began operating in 1957 and implemented wetland, prairie, woodland, and wildlife restorations to help return the land to its pre-settlement state. Along with other park reserves in the district, French Regional Park offers many activities such as biking, boating, hiking, fishing, swimming, and many other outdoor activities.
French Regional Park is a place where people come together, spend time with each other, and enjoy the nature around them. But who occupied the land before it was turned into a regional park, and why do they no longer occupy the land? The land in and around French Regional Park has a darker history with connections to the largest mass execution in United States history. The Dakota people were known to be near the present site of French Park from 1780 to 1853. Antoine LeCount, a European settler, came to the area first in 1848 and lived on the eastern part of Medicine Lake. He was soon joined by other settlers that came from Germany, England, and the New England States.
This later resulted in tensions over the possession of resource-rich land. The federal government had failed to meet the terms of treaty agreements, in which the Dakota were promised a ten-mile strip on the east side of the Minnesota River and a cash payment of 10 cents per acre for all other lands. Instead, congress only gave them the south strip and did not give the promised payments; they sold the land instead. The culmination of these frustrations resulted in physical conflict and the murder of several Native Americans on August 17, 1862. Chief Little Crow was asked to lead the war against the settlers, and he consented knowing he was doomed. On September 23, 1862, the war concluded in the battle at Wood Lake. Three weeks were spent on trials of the people of Little Crow’s camp, and the condemned were sent to Mankato. On December 26, 1862, thirty-eight Dakota men were hung simultaneously, making it the largest mass execution in United States history. The conflict left the Dakota community fragmented. Former residents of the reservations were incarcerated, executed, or forced to flee westward to the plains.
The effects of the Dakota War can still be seen today through evidence of system oppression. Through forced assimilation, the Dakota language and culture were oppressed for generations, which left the language and culture in critical condition. In Minnesota today, there are currently four federally-recognized Dakota communities (Prairie Island, Lower Sioux, Upper Sioux, and Shakopee) and one non-federally-recognized community (Mendota). Since 2002, a regional non-profit called Dakota Wicoh’an has been working through Dakota communities today to revive the language and culture that was swept away in the past.