Joseph Renville

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Winning Nomination

Joseph Renville, a fur trader of French and Indian descent and an early settler in what is now Minnesota, was influential in seeing how the Dakota Indians would soon be impacted by the coming Europeans. He invited early missionaries to come to his fort to establish a mission and school. Through him some of the early contacts were made between whites and native Americans that led to development of the Dakota alphabet, teaching materials in Dakota, teaching farming methods, and establishment of Christianity among that group of Dakota people, including translating the Bible into the Dakota language. Renville set in motion the circumstances that provided for early positive contacts between native Americans and Europeans in that part of the state. Those contacts provided a bridge that spanned the two worlds and whose benefits are still present today.
~Lois C. Willand, Minneapolis, MN


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History

(c. 1779-1846)

Building bridges between cultures

The son of a French trader and a Dakota woman, Joseph Renville was born near present-day St. Paul and lived with his Dakota relatives until he was ten, when he moved with his father to Canada. He eventually returned to Minnesota, where he was an interpreter for Lieutenant Zebulon Pike in 1805 and 1806 and for Major Stephen Long in 1823. Renville established a fur-trading post near Lac qui Parle, as an agent for the American Fur Company, in 1826. His familiarity with European and Indian culture, as well as his fluency in the Dakota, English, and French languages, made him an effective trader and a trusted intermediary among the people who lived and worked near his post.

Raised as a Catholic, Renville invited European missionaries to establish a mission and school near his fur post. Through the Lac qui Parle mission, Renville worked to further strengthen relationships among the European and Dakota peoples. With missionaries Thomas S. Williamson, Stephen R. Riggs, and Samuel and Gideon Pond, he translated the Bible and various hymnbooks into the Dakota language. The process was slow--a Bible verse would be read in French, Renville would translate it into the Dakota language, and his words would be carefully written down. Dakota is an oral language, and Renville's translations were among the first attempts to record Dakota in written form.

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