Mahkato Wacipi Education Day founders reflect on event as they attend one of their last

·2 min read

Sep. 16—Bruce and Sheryl Dowlin founded Education Day 35 years ago. Now, as they reflect on the event's history during likely one of their last years attending, they said it's hard to believe that much time has elapsed.

"When we first started it, we had no idea or any thought about it going on as long as it has," Sheryl said.

Both educators, Bruce and Sheryl said they started Education Day to create relationships between Native people and the Mankato community.

"I think the children have been a key link to the reconciliation efforts that have evolved here in Mankato over these 35 years," Sheryl said.

"We live in the homeland of the Dakota people, and I moved back to Mankato years ago and got involved in the powwow. Even though I'm a historian, I had to relearn history," said Bruce, who was born in Mankato. "We're both educators, and we decided to try to do something about this."

Although Bruce visits the event frequently to teach, this is the first time Sheryl has been back for a number of years.

The Dowlins, who now live in Idaho, said this year will likely be one of the last that they'll be back, as Sheryl said it's getting harder to travel.

Even so, they said it's been an honor to be a part of the educational program these 35 years.

"I hadn't even really thought about how long it was going until a couple of months ago, and then it suddenly dawned on me," Sheryl said. "It's been 35 years."

At the beginning, only about four people ran it. The powwow didn't get involved until later.

Now, not only has the event itself grown, but they've seen other communities, such as Wichita, replicate the idea.

Hundreds of Mankato Area Public Schools sixth graders attended Education Day on Friday, which served as one of the first events to the 50th annual Mahkato Wacipi.

Mahkato Wacipi Education Day coordinator Megan Heutmaker said the event serves as a way for students to connect with presenters and experts of American Indian culture.

"It's extremely important because we need to make sure we're teaching our students accurately and culturally accurate history," she said.

The Dowlins said they're honored to have watched the event grow into what it has today in not only Mankato but in the other cities that have been inspired by it as well.

"We're both lifelong educators and to have this kind of influence is just wonderful," Bruce said.

The Mahkato Wacipi continues all weekend at Land of Memories Park.