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About Oceti Ŝakowiŋ - The Seven Council Fires
Beginning in 2011, and funded by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, the Oceti Ŝakowiŋ Seven Council Fires digitization project and webpage were developed in consultation with Dakota partners. The project is one of the many efforts developed by the Minnesota Historical Society to address the anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 by building relationships with contemporary Dakota individuals and communities. It is grounded in nearly 150 years of evolving museum practices in handling and identifying material culture, as well as in the more recent decades of advances in working with American Indian communities.
Out of the roughly 250,000 items in the Minnesota Historical Society's historical artifact collection, approximately 5,500, acquired between 1855 and the present, are American Indian in origin. They have come to the Society through donations by archaeologists, ethnographers, collectors, and individuals (or their descendants) whose military or civilian careers brought them to this region during the nineteenth or twentieth century. Especially over the last few decades, the Society has purchased objects directly from artists and makers.
The ultimate outcome of this project was to digitize and review the approximately 1,000 items of material culture associated Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota (all formerly, and sometimes still, identified as "Sioux") and make them available on the Society's online database, Collections Online. In addition to increasing accessibility, especially to people who cannot visit the History Center, the project's explicit goals were to be completely transparent; to share with the public, in an easily understood way, all information about this material culture in the collections; and to solicit feedback from knowledgeable community members in order to present the material in the most accurate way.
To standardize this material, the project team reviewed original accession files and brought each catalog record up to modern museum standards. New digital photographs, also meeting contemporary professional standards, were taken of many of the items. Not all of these appear on this webpage, or in Collections Online, however, because of their culturally sensitive nature. For example, the digital records for canupa (pipestone pipes) that have been used do not contain an image. On these kinds of decisions, the Society operates under the advice of its Indian Advisory Committee.
This project cast a wide net in the interests of inclusiveness and in hopes of gathering more information. It includes both items made or used and possibly made or used by Dakota individuals or communities. Possibly in the preceding sentence is of great importance. Given the goal of publishing records with all available information, staff made no judgments to exclude items based on aesthetics or stylistic techniques. Sometimes the records hold very little information, especially for items that have been in the collections for nearly a century and a half. Simply put, if a catalog record contained the word Sioux or Dakota, as well as any of the cultural division names, it was digitized and included. In the past, the term Dakota was used academically to identify all divisions of the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota, and some museum records may reflect that outdated usage.
Beyond merely sharing collections information, digital technology provides a mechanism for the public to comment directly on an online catalog record. By its very nature, this function decentralizes authority on interpretation. Comments from a knowledgeable public, fostered by technology, remove absolute authority in interpretation from any one source. It is the ultimate goal of this project for visitors to this webpage to be able to learn directly from American Indians about their culture and history.