We are appealing to you to request your help passing legislation that would exempt Indigenous building practices from the State of Minnesota’s building codes.
The Makoce Ikikcupi (Land Recovery) project was launched in 2009 with contributions from settlers in Minnesota as a way to address the monumental crimes of land theft, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and colonialism perpetrated against Dakota people in our Minisota homeland. As current beneficiaries of those crimes, settlers have contributed personal funds to a land buy-back project. It was perceived as a way to right some historical wrongs. Thus, it is a project of reparative justice.
After a decade of fundraising, in summer 2019 we purchased our first small land parcel in Granite Falls, Minnesota with the intent of establishing a small community for landless Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires) people to return to this part of our homeland. Our vision is one of a culturally-grounded, sustainable community, one that is off-grid with no electricity or running water. That is, we hope to walk the path back to the ways of our ancestors, through language, through ceremony, and through simple ways of living. Part of this is the recovery of one of our traditional housing structures, the Dakota earthlodge.
Today, the city of Granite Falls has stated their support for our right to practice this aspect of our culture, but they are bound by state law to enforce adherence to the MN building codes. On September 16, 2019 we were issued a stop work order by the local building inspector and have been threatened with fines and legal charges if we continue building.
The codes were not written for structures of this kind and they clearly are at odds with our inherent right to practice our culture according to international law. Minnesota building codes were written to support western building practices rooted in industrial civilization. Adherence to those codes would require us to actually change the architecture and design of our earthlodges, thereby undermining our capacity to build according to our traditional concepts of planning, architecture, and engineering. We believe it is our inherent right as the Indigenous people of the land to practice our culture and not just build but also inhabit our traditional houses.
After a January 7, 2020 meeting with the Granite Falls city council, they agreed that the best long-term solution to this conflict is to seek a legislative exemption from the building codes for Indigenous building practices. The city council paid their attorneys to draft a legislative bill that was initially introduced in last year’s legislative session. That bill stalled with the onset of the COVID-pandemic. Thus we are trying again this current legislative session and this is an urgent issue for which we need your help.
While our people lived sustainably on the same land base for thousands of years without destroying it, in a few short centuries, Americans have plowed, mined, deforested, drain-tiled, exploited and poisoned our homeland. Today, 90 percent of our wetlands are gone and 98 percent of our prairies are gone. The waters that flowed through our rivers and streams are undrinkable, even unswimmable. These kinds of destructive practices are the same ones contributing to the planetary crisis we all face today. Now more than ever we need to strive toward a fossil-fuel free and sustainable future. Makoce Ikikcupi’s efforts to recover traditional ways of being rooted in natural law and sustainability should be supported in this context, as should all efforts by Indigenous Peoples to practice the ways of our ancestors.
According to MN Statutes (326B.082), violation of the building codes is a misdemeanor. Each violation can result in a $10,000 fine. Furthermore, the process grants unlimited access to the property to the commissioner who may: “with or without notice, enter without delay upon any property, public or private, for the purpose of taking any action authorized under this subdivision or the applicable law, including obtaining information, remedying violations, or conducting surveys, inspections, or investigations.” If violations are not remedied, or access to the property is not granted, or if we violate a stop order, we could be charged, additionally with contempt of court. If we persist, this could eventually result in arrest and jail time. A legislative exemption would prevent us from being criminalized for practicing our culture. Building Dakota earthlodges should not be illegal in Dakota homeland. We hope you will help us.
Please write your MN legislators today to express support of the bill exempting Indigenous building practices from the MN building codes!