State of Minnesota Transferring State Park to Dakota Tribe

The State of Minnesota is now engaged in transferring the Upper Sioux Agency State Park in the southwestern part of the State to a Dakota Indian Tribe that was involved in its tragic history.[1]

Historical Background

The Treaty of Traverse Des Sioux of 1851 moved the Dakota Indians from Iowa and Minnesota to a reservation 20 miles wide in southwestern Minnesota along the Minnesota River Valley. The U.S. then established on the same grounds the Yellow Medicine Agency to administer the terms of the treaty, but this Agency was destroyed in the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War.[2]

This land now contains a cemetery for the Native people. The landscape is diverse with grasslands, wetlands, woods, rivers, open prairie knolls, old fields and meadows. Scattered bur oaks are the oldest trees in the park. The Minnesota River flows along its northern boundary. The rugged scenic beauty of the river valley can be viewed along the trails and the prairie knolls.

In 1963 the State of Minnesota established the Upper Sioux Agency State Park to preserve and interpret the remains of the old Agency site.

Efforts To Return This Land to the Dakota People

Kevin Jensvold, the chairman of the Upper Sioux Community, a small tribe with about 550 members just outside the park, has spent the last 18 years asking the state to return the park to his tribe. He began when a tribal elder told him it was unjust Dakota people at the time needed to pay a state fee for each visit to the graves of their ancestors there. And he said this area is “a place of holocaust. Our people starved to death here.”

Over time tribe members speaking out about past injustices have helped more people understand how lands were taken and treaties were often not upheld, according to Mary Kunesh, a Democrat and descendant of the Standing Rock Nation. Now, she added, people seem more interested in “doing the right thing and getting lands back to tribes.”

This year Minnesota State legislators finally authorized the transfer when Democrats took control of State Legislature and the Governor’s office for the first time in nearly a decade. But the transfer is expected to take years to finish with the need for allocation of more than $6 million to facilitate the transfer by 2033. These funds can be used to buy land with recreational opportunities and pay for appraisals, road and bridge demolition and other engineering.


[1] Assoc. Press, Native tribe to get back land 160 years after largest mass hang in U.S. history. Guardian (Sept. 3, 2023); Ahmed, Tribe getting piece of Minnesota back more than a century after ancestors died there, StarTribune (Sept. 2, 2023);  Minnesota poised to close state park, return land to Dakota tribe, StarTribune (May 13, 2023); Upper Sioux Agency State Park.

 [2] This blog ( has published the following posts about the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862: The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (11/03/12); White Settler’s Contemporaneous Reaction to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (11/06/12); President Abraham Lincoln’s Involvement in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (05/21/13); U.S. Military Commission Trials of Dakota Indians After the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (6/11/13); President  Lincoln’s Involvement in the Military Commission’s Convictions and Sentences of the Dakota Indians (06/24/13);  Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (11/09/12); Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Hanging of the “Dakota 38” (12/26/12); Minneapolis and St. Paul Declare U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 “Genocide” (01/12/13);Remembering the U.S. Dakota War at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (Part I) (11/18/12); Remembering the U.S. Dakota War at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (Part II) (11/25/12); Remembering the U.S. Dakota War at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (Part III) (11/29/12); Personal Reflections on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (12/10/12).