Did you know that the Dakota people have harvested maple sap for centuries? Originally, maple sap was harvested from groups of sugar maple trees (also known as sugarbushes) throughout Minnesota and areas with similar climates. The sap was collected between mid-March and mid-April. Dakota people would cut through the tree’s bark with an axe and a small trough was wedged into the tree to channel the flow of the sap.
Historically, the dripping sap was manually collected from each tree in a birch bark basket and stored in a large carved-out log. Once enough sap was collected, it would be reduced and boiled until it could be stored as sugar. This process played an important role in the social life of the Dakota people by bringing communities together to share in the production of this commodity.
Today, the SMSC continues to harvest maple sap for processing—though the methods used to collect, process, and store have all changed. For more than 10 years, Wozupi Tribal Gardens has operated the SMSC sugarbush from a nearby woodland during the late winter and early spring months. Every March, more than 500 spouts are attached to trees and maintained in order to produce maple syrup for the Community.
During this cycle, sap is collected through a state-of-the-art vacuum pump system of tubing that flows into an outdoor 1,200-gallon storage tank. Wozupi Tribal Gardens staff pick up and transport the collected sap to their facility just down the road once or twice per day. It is there that the sap is processed using reverse osmosis and boiling to transform it into the pure maple syrup that you can find on the shelves of Mazopiya and in the Hoċokata Ti Gift Shop.
“This operation receives a lot of help from different departments and enterprises throughout the SMSC and it is great to have their support,” said Agricultural Services Supervisor Philip Honzay.
While the harvest and production processes of the sugarbush have drastically changed over the years, the integrity of the tradition and the environment within the sugarbush have remained a priority and will be protected for generations to come.
For more information about Wozupi Tribal Gardens and the products they produce, visit wozupi.com.