A Place for Dakota Stories: The Bdote Memory Map


My parents Laurie and Dick Gustafson (left and right) with Mona Smith (center)

Some words just keep poking through no matter what you are thinking or writing about. Today the word place appeared again, as regularly as a thread passing over the warp. Dakota storyteller and media artist Mona Smith, speaking at the Minnesota Humanities Center emphasized the importance of place in her work on the Bdote Memory Map, an online multimedia project that brings together many voices and images to tell a story about the Twin Cities area–a Dakota place.

Any discipline with place as a focus is useful,“ Mona said. “Bdote,” she explained to a packed audience, is a Dakota word that describes a place “where waters meet.” It is also used to describe the sacred place where the Minnesota River meets the Mississippi. Bdote conveys the sense of place called homeland.

If you want to learn about where you are, Mona said, “Start with the people who have the longest relationship with the place. Here– it is the Dakota.” The purpose of the Bdote Memory Map is “to make it easier to listen to Indigenous people.”

She guided us through a look at the Bdote Memory Map by projecting the website on screen (and despite the usual technical glitches) we were able to get a sense of this rich, interactive story resource. When you visit the website the landing page has a circle with four directions or links to follow. She suggested starting in the East and moving south and then west and north. This is to appreciate that there are different ways of looking at things and getting oriented.

Each link takes you to various pages that provide stories and resources. There is a “Greetings” page in Dakota; the “We Are Home” page offers words and images that tell about the history of separation and reclamation of Mnisota as homeland.

The “Memory Map” page, Mona explained, grew out of what was originally an art project, “City Indians,” at Ancient Indian Traders Gallery (2006) in Minneapolis. A map of the Twin Cities area was painted on a wall with Dakota place names on it. Visitors were invited to add their own memories, place names and stories to the map.

Mona spoke to the fact that maps show things fixed in time and space in a way that does not really capture the truth of places. However, maps do help navigate and do start interesting conversations. A click on a map site will take visitors to a page with text and videos that tell stories about that place.

For the past year, much of my work has been threaded through with the term placemaking, a term that is migrating from the sphere of urban design into community organizing and the arts. Dr. Katherine Loflin, a consultant and leader in the field, defines placemaking as “what creates the soul of the community,” adding that, “Places have to know their narratives.”

When I hear stories like those shared in Mona Smith’s presentation, many of them unfamiliar to too many of us, I feel closer to the soul of this place I call home.


One comment

  1. candlgustafson@comcast.net · · Reply

    I think you captured the spirit and purpose of Mona Smith’s presentation.

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