Shana Sippy, PhD
A series of four documentary shorts
The documentary shorts in Sacred Minnesota explore how communities have not only drawn on cultural resources to make a place for themselves in Minnesota but how they have, in various ways, drawn on specifically religious traditions to recognize and create sacred places, and, in some cases, sacralize the Minnesota landscape itself.
These shorts do more than simply celebrate cultural forms of placemaking; they explore how placemaking often draws on the power and orientation that arguably only the sacred—as construed variously by different communities—can bring. The distinctive ways communities consecrate Minnesota places (or in the case of Native nations, re-consecrate and keep them) are as important as the work of sacralization that unites them. The pieces provide windows into four different worlds: the indigenous Dakota struggle to protect their place of genesis from desecration and their erasure; a Guyanese Hindu community finds ways to create the sacred, transmit tradition, and offer hospitality to all in repurposed spaces (a garage, a former church); Cambodian Buddhists, many of whom came to the US as refugees, demarcate a sacred sanctuary in rural farmlands, making space for spiritual, emotional, and physical healing from war; and Mexican women create and maintain domestic altars, sacralizing their homes inviting and honoring the presence of saints and ancestors in their everyday lives, providing protection, comfort and community.
Conceived of and developed through community partnerships established over the past 12 years by Professors Michael McNally and Shana Sippy—the series was produced in collaboration with ReligionsMN, Twin Cities Public Television, supported from a generous Public Television Amplify Grant and Carleton College’s Mellon Public Works Program, and the Minnesota Humanities Center. The project draws upon extensive research compiled for ReligionsMN.org, profiling more than 100 religious sites throughout the state, much of which currently live in the not-yet public-facing pipeline, and the many community partnerships established through the project.
Professor Shana Sippy of Centre College and Professor Michael McNally of Carleton College co-direct the ReligionsMN project. In reflecting on the Sacred Minnesota series, Sippy and McNally found a number of common throughlines. McNally spoke about how, “in all of these places, we see communities connecting with their ancestors, across temporal and spatial boundaries. At the same time, they are passing down stories and customs, transmitting tradition to future generations.” “Each of these shorts provides us with insights,” Sippy said, “into how sacred space can be a way to anchor one’s life, servings as an environment in which people can reflect upon and reckon with traumas of the past and present.” McNally explained that, “while each site is unique—something that is particularly clear in the case of the Dakota—for whom the land itself has always been sacred, there are still many resonances in these stories.” As Sippy described it, everyday actions are made sacred, “for each of these communities, be they indigenous or immigrant, preserving and creating the sacred requires tremendous and unceasing labor. In some cases, it is the work of pouring cement, repairing leaky roofs, and cooking food, in others it involves lobbying and political organizing to navigate city ordinances and federal, state and local policies about land use and rights.” Sippy said, “these shorts give us a glimpse into the sacred as it is found in different types of places—natural environments, elaborate edifices, improvised and repurposed buildings, as well corners and nooks of homes. “We see them as ways to foster public dialogue and promote greater understanding across difference,” McNally reflected. Sippy and McNally reflected. “While the traditions of challenges facing each community make each story distinct, what happens in these places can be compelling for their similarities: peoples acknowledge sacred presence, make sense of their place in the world, and find refuge, hope and community.”