Could the National Park Service be a fit guardian for the Gettysburg Battlefield if it announced publicly that it did not accept the belief that a profoundly important battle took place there, one that was a turning point in the history of the Civil War and indeed for the history of the country, and that because of this belief the battlefield should be approached with great reverence? What if the Park Service announced that it understood that the battlefield had some contemporary importance among Civil War re-enactors, but that the battlefield was also important among nature lovers, polo players, and others with various agendas and that the Park Service had to serve all its many stakeholders and that the role of the battlefield as a public park open to everyone would adequately serve these many constituents?
It is hard to imagine that this would ever be possible. Yet the Park Service’s Twin Cities branch, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area or MNRRA, is now managing a public park located at Coldwater Spring, a site considered to be a sacred place and traditional cultural property by the Dakota people, from whom the spring was obtained in the Treaty of 1805, while maintaining that it does not accept the cultural and historical connection of the Dakota to the site. The record of MNRRA and its employees has, for the past six years, made clear that it does not and will not ever respect the cultural heritage of the Dakota. The full record of the Park Service’s biases against the Dakota–and its unfitness to manage Coldwater Spring–has been discussed in great detail on this website over the last six years. Perhaps the earliest inkling of Park Service attitudes was revealed in what follows a story first published online on September 13, 2006. For those who do not know the issues involved this is a good place to start.
Every minute, for thousands of years, 70 gallons or more of cool, pure water have gushed from Coldwater Spring, on the west bank of the Mississippi River just upstream from where the Minnesota flows into the Mississippi. It is a part of the area’s complex watershed, a remarkable feature of an area the Dakota people consider to be the center of the world. Historic sources disclose that the Dakota have considered and do consider springs to be sacred places, but Coldwater Spring, now located on the Bureau of Mines (BOM), Twin Cities Campus property in Hennepin County, Minnesota, is not, according to the National Park Service, a place of traditional cultural importance—a “traditional cultural property” or TCP—for Dakota People.
This Park Service opinion was revealed in late August 2006, in a statement rejecting the report of an outside consultant which had found that Coldwater spring is a TCP. Contrary to the consistent statements of Dakota people and Dakota communities, other Indian people, and other experts, the National Park Service will admit only that the spring has “contemporary importance to many American Indian people.” The Park Service has declined to explain much about the announcement, including any clue about how it reached that conclusion. Nonetheless, the announcement appears to be a direct challenge to the historical and cultural beliefs of Dakota people in Minnesota and elsewhere and to the sovereignty of their tribal governments. It is difficult to know whether this was intentional or merely the result of bad judgment.
An Environmental Review
On August 18, 2006, the National Park Service sent out a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and supporting documents describing the cultural, historic, and environmental characteristics of the Bureau of Mines (BOM) property and considering the effects that a variety of actions might have on the property. The Bureau of Mines property contains the place where Coldwater Spring comes out of the ground, where its waters are gathered in a pool and where these waters begin to flow to the Mississippi River. One of the reports attached to the DEIS was a study (Ethnographic Study) analyzing whether Coldwater Spring is a TCP, the term used for sites of places of traditional importance under the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) criteria.
People not familiar with the process may wonder why the term TCP is used for what most people might call, simply, a sacred site. As it happens the federal government has appropriated that ancient term sacred for its own purposes, so that to be sacred under federal law, in relation to Indian people, a place must be declared such by a tribal government or religious leader. The source for this is President Bill Clinton’s Executive Order of May 24, 1996, No. 13007, dealing with Indian Sacred Sites:
“Sacred site” means any specific, discrete, narrowly delineated location on Federal land that is identified by an Indian tribe, or Indian individual determined to be an appropriately authoritative representative of an Indian religion, as sacred by virtue of its established religious significance to, or ceremonial use by, an Indian religion; provided that the tribe or appropriately authoritative representative of an Indian religion has informed the agency of the existence of such a site.
Coldwater Spring reservoir in winter, in the 1880s. Original in the Minneapolis Public Library.
Given this special definition under federal law, a place of cultural importance to Dakota people might not be considered a TCP by the federal government but could be a sacred site, or visa versa.
Dakota and other Indian people hold Coldwater Spring to be important because of their religious and cultural beliefs and their history. The spring and the Bureau of Mines-Twin Cities Campus property are in federal hands today because in 1805, at the mouth of the Minnesota River, two Dakota leaders from nearby villages signed a treaty in which they gave the U.S. government, as represented by Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, the right to use the area around the mouth of the Minnesota to build and support a fort. Article 3 of the treaty provided that the Dakota people would continue to have the right to “pass, repass, hunt or make other uses of the said districts, as they have formerly done, without any other exception, but those specified in article first [relating to the use of land for a military post].” The meaning of this provision has not yet been determined by a court of law, but it should be clear to anyone who hopes to make use of the Bureau of Mines property that this right, and other possible rights, may be perpetual, even though Dakota people have been barred from the property for long periods of their history.
From the 1805 to the 1850s the Dakota did have access to Coldwater Spring. As described by some of the Indian consultants and in historical documents, Coldwater Spring was part of a neutral ground, a place where many Indian groups came for treaties and ceremonies. Ojibwe leaders camped at Coldwater Spring when they signed the Treaty of 1837, the first sale of their land in present-day Minnesota. A number of individuals of mixed Dakota, Ojibwe, and European ancestry lived around the spring. The wife of Benjamin Baker, the most important trader located at the spring, was Ojibwe, as were the wives of some of Baker’s employees. Marguerite Bonga, of African and Ojibwe descent, was married to Jacob Falstrom, a Swedish blacksmith. Nancy Graham, the daughter of Duncan Graham and a Mdewakanton Dakota woman named Ha-za-ho-ta-win, was married to Joseph Buisson.
Specific examples of Dakota people using the water from Coldwater Spring, or any spring at all for that matter, are difficult to find in written sources. [However see the later research that showed that the Dakota did come to the spring, as discussed in my new book Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota.] Does this mean that Dakota people never came to the spring, did not understand its importance, or did not value it? One might as well ask whether it is possible that the soldiers at Fort Snelling did not understand the importance of the spring because there are so few records of soldiers actually going there. In historical documents there are actually very few direct references to people drinking water at the spring, even though we know that it was crucial to the support of the fort and to the historic settlement located around it. Springs were important but they were a part of the landscape that was seldom mentioned in historical documents.
Few whites wrote about the Dakota beliefs about springs in general or Coldwater Spring in particular. Perhaps the most important written information about the spring is found in the work of Gideon Pond, a missionary who thought of Dakota religious beliefs as being superstitions, but who still recorded them with detailed though sometimes incomplete descriptions. Springs for the Dakota were “breathing places of the wakan,” or the sacred and mysterious, including such beings as Unktehi, “the God of the waters.” Unktehi was specifically associated with the hill just west and north of Coldwater Spring, Taku Wakan Tipi, “the dwelling place of the gods,” known to the soldiers at Fort Snelling as Morgan’s Mound. In historic times the area between Coldwater Spring and Taku Wakan Tipi was a wetland, nourished by seepage from Coldwater Spring—or from Coldwater’s own sources—around Morgan’s Mound. Archaeologist Robert Clouse’s 2000 survey of the Bureau of Mines site showed deeply buried wetland soils at the north end of the property, further evidence of the persistent presence of Unktehi (Clouse Report, p. 68).
The significance of Coldwater Spring for Dakota people today comes in part from the traditional reverence that springs have had for Dakota people. But Coldwater Spring is an especially important spring because of its association with Taku Wakan Tipi and with the larger Mdote—or more accurately, Bdote—Minisota area, an area with a number of linked sacred places, including Pilot Knob or Oheyawahi, which was also associated with Unktehi in Dakota beliefs. Mdote Minisota is the place of Dakota creation, the center of the world, which helps explain the rich number of Dakota sacred places in the area. In fact, though Mdote refers to the mouth of a river, there is no reason to believe that the place of creation is limited to the water at the mouth. An early French source uncovered by the anthropologist Carolyn Anderson describes the first woman coming out of the ground on the plain between Mdote and St. Anthony Falls. This means that the sacred area of Dakota origins is much larger than the literal mouth of the Minnesota River.
Coldwater Spring, Taku Wakan Tipi, Oheyawahi, and many other places in the Fort Snelling area also have significance for Dakota people for their history, including the tragic events culminating in the imprisonment of 1300  people below Fort Snelling and their subsequent exile from their homeland. Only a few Dakota were allowed to stay in Minnesota. It was not until many years later that some were allowed to come back to Minnesota to revisit the graves of their ancestors on Oheyawahi. Did any return to Coldwater Spring at that time? The closest Dakota community was across the river in Mendota, but it would have been difficult for the Mendota people even in the 1880s to visit a spring that now was part of a system piping water to an expanded fort stretching toward the present-day airport. This expanded fort was the headquarters of the U.S. Army’s Department of Dakota. It supplied the troops and equipment for battling the relatives of the Minnesota Dakota on the Plains. Access to the spring has also been restricted during the last 50 years of Bureau of Mines control. Up to recent times Native American religious practices have also been restricted. (See for example.)
Preserving Dakota Places of Importance
Until recent years no sites of traditional cultural importance to Dakota people in Minnesota have been included on the National Register of Historic Places. The first was Boiling Springs in Scott County, nominated by archaeologist Scott Anfinson and placed the Register in December 2002. This site had the advantage of being fairly discreet and uncontested; although it is important, it lacks the profound importance of the areas around Fort Snelling. Oheyawahi or Pilot Knob in Dakota County was nominated in 2003 and determined to be eligible in January 2004 by the Keeper of the National Register. It was the first Dakota site within the Mdote [Bdote] Area to be acknowledged in this way, although other locations have been discussed. While the boundaries of the Fort Snelling Historic Landmark and District areas include some sites of Dakota importance, documentation on these areas includes little, if anything, that acknowledges Dakota history, culture, beliefs, traditions, or even presence. Several consultants have suggested that a Mdote Cultural District, embracing the many sites of importance to the Dakota and other tribes, should be documented fully and nominated, but no actions have been taken to do so.
Because of the lack of Dakota sites on the National Register, and because of the profound importance of the Mdote area, and because of the tragic history of 1862 and its aftermath, special sensitivity is required by all who deal with properties located there. Such sensitivity appears to have been applied in documenting and analyzing Coldwater Spring by the firms Summit Envirosolutions and Two Pines Resource Group, under contract with the National Park Service as part of the current Bureau of Mines environmental review process.
Researchers under the lead of principal investigator Michelle Terrell studied the written documentation about the spring and then consulted with six key Dakota cultural experts, one key Ojibwe cultural expert, eleven official representatives of four Dakota communities and one Ojibwe reservation, and six additional Indian and non-Indian consultants. Their report describes this research and consultation, and it carries out the usual National Register analysis familiar to cultural-resource specialists but often viewed as arcane by others. The consultants determined that Coldwater Spring is a traditional cultural property for Dakota people, under Criteria A and C of the National Register criteria. The analysis, recorded in a fourteen-page discussion and a later seven-page summary, is extensive and thorough and will not be repeated here, except to quote the unmistakable conclusion:
As a result of this evaluation, Coldwater is recommended as being significant at a statewide level as a TCP associated with the Dakota communities in Minnesota. The spring is recommended as eligible for the National Register under Criterion A for its association with Mdote. The spring is also recommended as eligible under National Register Criterion C as representative of the type of natural springs (many of which have been destroyed or which are no longer accessible) that figure significantly in Dakota traditional practices and are important for the continued maintenance of their cultural identity (Ethnographic Study, p. 79).
Boundaries are often a key issue with TCPs. The consultants discussed the boundaries that Dakota and Ojibwe people assigned to Coldwater Spring. The report noted:
There is a consensus that the boundaries of Coldwater Spring include not only where the water flows from the rock wall, but also the source of the spring and the location where the spring water finally deposits into the Mississippi River (Ethnographic Study, p. 93).
As a result of this finding, the consultants recommended that “the actual boundary determination be made in consultation with the Dakota and Ojibwe communities.”
Had the Park Service accepted the findings of its own consultant it would have provided the agency the opportunity to do the right thing and make up, in a small way, for years of inattention to Dakota sacred places. But apparently the facts or the analysis in the study were not to the liking of the Park Service. Exactly what process the agency used to evaluate the report, where this evaluation took place, and when a conclusion was reached are matters that the Park Service refuses to discuss with the public. But in issuing the DEIS, the Park Service stated:
After review of the study, the National Park Service has determined that Camp Coldwater Spring does not meet the criteria in the NHRP for designation as a TCP. However, Camp Coldwater Spring and Reservoir are important to some Indian people for ritual and ceremonial reasons. The importance ascribed to this area, including the spring and reservoir and the subsequent need for protection, is addressed in the alternatives presented in this draft EIS (DEIS, p. 26)
No citation was given for this comment, but on the second page of the separate Ethnographic Study, the Park Service placed the following notice intended to contradict the entire content of the consultant’s report:
National Park Service Statement
The National Park Service recognizes that Camp Coldwater spring and reservoir located on the former Bureau of Mines property holds significant contemporary importance to many American Indian people. However, the evidence presented in this report does not meet the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places for determining them eligible for the Register as a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP).
In May 2006 the National Park Service sent a review copy of the Ethnographic Study to Stanley Crooks, chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, and, possibly, to other Dakota communities. Providing slightly more information than in the DEIS, JoAnn Kyral, superintendent of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), the local agency handling the EIS process, stated in a letter to Crooks:
The study offers substantial background information about Dakota Indian Life around the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers and about Dakota traditions related to springs and water. However, little evidence is provided that relates directly to the site specific use of the Center [BOM-Twin Cities Campus] property or Coldwater Spring. After thoroughly reviewing the evidence provided in the report the National Park Service has concluded that neither the Center nor Coldwater Spring meet the specific criteria in the National Register to designate the area as a TCP. However, it is clear that the spring has significant contemporary cultural importance to many Indian people, and the spring is already a contributing element to the Fort Snelling National Historic Landmark and the Fort Snelling National Register of Historic Places District. In recognition of this contemporary cultural importance and the contributing element factors, an alternative will be included in the EIS that would provide protections for the spring and reservoir (Ethnographic Study, Appendix B).
Kyral’s words are condescending, suggesting that although the federal government rejects the Dakota communities’ claim to the spring as a historical and cultural feature and in the process rejects the history and cultural traditions on which it is based, the Park Service will try to protect the spring because it is part of a site important for, among other things, its role in colonizing Minnesota and sending the Dakota into exile in 1863. The area’s place in Dakota history is not significant; its white history is. The irony of this juxtaposition is evidently lost on the Park Service.
These short statements concerning the Park Service’s TCP decision provide little information about the deliberative process that produced this determination to reject the findings of the consultant. This continued after the DEIS was released. In late August in response to a request for more information about any deliberative process, an agency spokesperson would only state:
The stated position is that of the National Park Service based upon an agency internal review.
In other words, the Park Service wished to make clear that The Agency—meaning anyone from the Park Service Director Fran Mainella, Regional Director Ernest Quintana in Omaha, some park superintendent in Hawaii, or one or two local staff in Minnesota including, possibly, Superintendent JoAnn Kyral, Project Manager Kim Berns, historian John Anfinson, cultural anthropologist Michael J. Evans, or even MNRRA’s Singing Ranger Charlie McGuire—had decided that Coldwater Spring does not meet the criteria as a traditional cultural property for Dakota people. The Park Service wanted everyone to know this but was unwilling to provide reasons, and use of the term “internal review” suggests that the Park Service would claim an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act to anyone who requesting documentation of the process.
Determinations and Pre-Determinations
Why should a finding without explanation or justification be taken seriously? In the wider world of historical study, you are expected to support your theories with facts and arguments. In such a world the “determination” of the Park Service, presented without evidence or argument, would not be taken seriously and it would have little effect. In this case the Park Service is supervising an EIS process, and the determination is actually a pre-determination, one that biases a process that is supposed to be an open and honest one. An EIS is not merely the discussion of the consequences of various actions, but a compilation of information presented as facts. By presenting information in certain ways, a government agency can pre-determine the result it wishes to achieve. In rejecting the recommendation of its consultants on the TCP question without actual discussion of the information or issues raised, the Park Service has raised questions about the consultant’s facts and analysis without actually presenting any useful alternative facts or analysis.
In sharp contrast, the Park Service has reported the recommendations of their other outside consultants without apparent bias. In discussing the 2001 Clouse Report, the DEIS states exactly what Clouse’s recommendations were, including further testing of one of the archaeological zones on the BOM property and the expansion of the boundaries of the Fort Snelling Historic Landmark to include archaeological Zone II surrounding the spring (DEIS, p. 80). Similarly, a section on the 2002 Henning historical study stated that:
the author concluded that neither the spring nor associated features are independently eligible for the NHRP. However, she did conclude that Camp Coldwater Spring does contribute to the significance of the Fort Snelling National Historic District, the Fort Snelling National Historic Landmark, and the Old Fort Snelling State Historic District (DEIS, p. 81).
The Henning conclusions, which are contained in a skimpy half-page analysis in the Henning report—in contrast to the 21-page discussion in the Ethnographic Study—are highly questionable. There is a wealth of information contained in the Henning report and in other sources that would show that Coldwater Spring is independently eligible for the NHRP, were the Park Service disposed to undertake such a examination.
By presenting Henning’s conclusions with no comment, the Park Service gives them tacit endorsement. But in writing about the Ethnographic Study, the Park Service not only does not report the findings of the consultants, it does not examine the evidence they presented fully or accurately. The DEIS states:
During the course of that study, some participants identified springs as a general category of culturally of culturally important resources due to spirit entities that inhabit such water sources, and the ceremonial use of water for various purposes. Although no historical documentation of American Indian use of Coldwater Spring was found, the oral traditions and histories collected during the investigation suggest that natural springs like Coldwater Spring are associated with sacred healing. Camp Coldwater Spring is currently used by some members of federally recognized Dakota and by Ojibwe communities, and by other American Indians as a source of water for ceremonies (DEIS, page 81).
It is important to note the distinction made here between “historical documentation” and “oral traditions and histories.” One would have thought this kind of ethnocentric distinction—which holds written evidence to be more important than oral tradition—had long been discredited in applications of National Register criteria. Only someone with a confirmed bias would suggest that this is a fair presentation of the evidence in the Ethnographic Study. Coldwater Spring is not just a spring among springs, all of which may be sacred to the Dakota, but it is the most visible surviving spring, one that happens to issue in part from Taku Wakan Tipi, the very place where Unktehi was said to reside. The Park Service knows these facts but chooses not to mention them, for reasons the agency has not shared.
Coldwater Spring also happens to be within the area of Mdote Minisota [Bdote Mni Sota], a place of great importance to the Dakota people. But even in relation to Mdote [Bdote], the Park Service inserts its own bias:
Camp Coldwater Spring was also identified as important in relationship to the Mdote Minisota or the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. While the confluence is not located within the area of the proposed actions, the interviewees stressed the importance of considering Camp Coldwater Spring within this larger context (DEIS, p. 82).
Not content to draw conclusions about Coldwater Spring opposite to those reached by its own consultants, the Park Service here presumes to draw its own boundaries for a Dakota place of traditional importance, without any particular evidence and without consulting with Dakota people. Evidence in the Ethnographic Study and in other sources contradicts this statement, extending the boundaries of the place of Dakota creation usually described by the term Mdote a great distance away from the actual mouth of the Minnesota River. The Park Service chooses to ignore its own evidence. One can only assume that for the Park Service’s BOM agenda to be achieved, it is convenient for Coldwater Spring to be entirely independent from the place of Dakota creation.
The Park Service DEIS also shows its bias in the way the Park Service discusses the Dakota communities who find Coldwater Spring to be of traditional cultural importance. The DEIS notes:
The primary American Indian communities that have been identified as having an association with the area surrounding the spring are the Mdewakanton Dakota, who currently reside at the federally recognized Lower Sioux Indian Community; Prairie Island Indian Community; Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community; and Upper Sioux Indian Community (DEIS, p. 82).
By naming individual communities, the report suggests that four local groups, out of some unnumbered Dakota, are represented. In fact these are the entirety of federally recognized Dakota communities in the state. In 1999, the chairman of each community separately sent the same letter to a Minnesota state official which said
As you are aware, the Coldwater Spring and the area at the meeting of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers have held significant cultural and practical importance to Indian people for thousands of years. We once again state our support of our spiritual leaders that the Coldwater Spring is a spiritual and cultural sacred site (Ethnographic Study, Appendix G).
Referring to later letters from tribal leaders, Park Service conveniently fails to mention that the leaders had previously declared that Coldwater Spring was a “sacred and cultural site,” reporting only a later statement that “Coldwater Spring holds significant cultural importance to the Dakota People” (DEIS, page 28).
Similar bias occurs when the Park Service reports the statement contained in a letter from the chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, representing descendants of the people who were in the region of Mdote [Bdote] several hundred years ago. Marianne Long, director of tribal operations in 1999, wrote: “Camp Coldwater is a sacred site for the Iowa Tribe and other Native American groups” (Ethnographic Study, Appendix G). The Park Service says it attempted to contact the Iowa Tribe about these statements but “no response was received from the tribe” (DEIS, p. 29).
What particular response was needed from the tribe? Having said that the place was sacred, what purpose would be served by elaborating? In a similar situation in 2003 a Dakota elder was questioned repeatedly about his statements describing another sacred place, one also said to be connected to Unktehi. The elder had limited his responses to general statements about the sacredness of the place. He was then asked for more specific answers about Unktehi. In response the Dakota elder said:
You asked me something in a different way. . . . And see, that’s a European concept. If they don’t get an answer, well then they’ll ask another way. They can’t accept what they’ve been told. They want to change it . . . . So we don’t change nothing. Same with our ceremonies, we don’t change them. Our ceremonies come through dreams and visions. Our way of life is conducted . . . through dreams and visions. We don’t change it. We don’t have that right. It is not of our making.
What part of “sacred” does the Park Service fail to understand? Why would any tribe want to consult with a Park Service that presumes to tell tribes about the meaning of their own heritage, history, and culture? Why is it so difficult for the Park Service to accept the beliefs of Dakota and other groups about sacred and traditional places? [See Is it sacred now?]
Their Own Set of Secret Facts
Daniel Patrick Moynihan is credited with saying that every person is entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts. In the case of Camp Coldwater, the Park Service has reserved the right to its own set of secret facts, so as to support an opinion that disagrees with that of its own expert consultants. Why are Park Service officials determined to carry out this course in what is supposed to be an open and honest process? One possibility is that the Park Service really does not want to have to consult with Indian people about what should happen to Coldwater Spring. Park Service officials may not want to sit down with Dakota people and discuss where the sacred area of Coldwater Spring begins and where it ends. If that is the case, the Park Service’s determination to reject Coldwater Spring as a TCP is as it appears, nothing less than a direct insult to the Dakota, to their history, their culture, and also their sovereignty, in other words, an invitation to “Drop Dead.”
Thomas F. King literally wrote the book on traditional cultural properties, in National Register Bulletin 38, entitled “Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Traditional Cultural Properties,” the report that originated the term. Since then King has written a number of other books dealing with such places. King has repeatedly noted the proclivity of federal agencies to argue with Indian people about the meaning of sacred and traditional places. King maintains that government agencies could save time and money simply accepting the beliefs of Indian people and moving on to negotiate with particular groups about the effects of federal actions. In this case, however, Park Service, unable to find a consultant who agreed with its belief that Coldwater Spring was not a traditional cultural property, has simply decided to veto the findings of its consultant. That, of course, has happened before with federal agencies.In Places that Count: Traditional Cultural Properties in Cultural Resource Management (p. 142), King states that one of the best quick TCP studies was written about Chequamegon Bay by John Anfinson, then a historian with the Army Corps of Engineers in St. Paul. King writes that in the 1990s “Anfinson spent a couple of days talking informally with tribal members and captured the essentials of the bay’s traditional significance in a half-dozen page memorandum.” The Corps was not satisfied with his report, and apparently, according to King, Anfinson was not either. Two years later the Red Cliff and Bad River Bands of Chippewa paid Thomas King several thousand dollars to write a TCP study. King himself observes that his report says virtually the same thing as Anfinson’s, only in more words.
Anfinson was still with the Army Corps in St. Paul in November 1999, when he received a call from Michelle Heller of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. At this time a coalition of Indian people, environmental groups, and many others were seeking to stop the construction of Highway 55 through the Coldwater Area. One point of contention was a set of oak trees, some over 137 years old. Some people said the oak trees were sacred. At the same time the issue of whether the spring or the trees were TCPs had been raised. Earlier in the year the firm of Berger and Associates, working for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), had issued a report that rejected TCP status for the trees but suggested that Coldwater Spring could very likely qualify.
At the boundary between development and preservation, Coldwater Spring comes out of the ground between highways 55 and 62 and the lush vegetation alongthe Mississippi River near Fort Snelling, in the former Bureau of Mines Property in Hennepin County, Minnesota.
Michelle Heller of the Advisory Council called Anfinson to get his opinion on the Highway 55 issues, perhaps because there had been and would continue to be complaints to the Council on the way in which the historic and historic resources of the area had been treated by MnDOT. Notes of that phone conversationwere kept by Heller or someone else at the Advisory Council and were made available to me in 2001 as a result of a FOIA request:Ms. Heller questioned Dr. Anfinson about his knowledge of the highway 55 project and of the background of the area and tribes.
Dr. Anfinson explained that his brother Scott is an archeologist in the SHPO office and they have talked about the case. The Corps has not been involved as there have been no permit issues for the area yet. Dr. Anfinson has experience in dealing with Traditional Cultural Properties (TCPs) since there are 28 tribes in his Corps district.
Dr. Anfinson provided some background on the history of the area. He then stated that there is no basis to argue for the four trees or anything in the area as a TCP. He said that the spring supposedly had traditional cultural association but expressed that written evidence needs to be compared to oral testimony in determining whether this is a political move on the part of tribes.
Dr. Anfinson has been using bulletin 38 in his determination of what constitutes a TCP though he believes that this bulletin needs to be reworked. He explained that what constitutes a community needs to be defined. For example he asks, “Do eight or ten people out of a tribe of 100 constitute a community?He also questioned what would be considered as an adequate level of evidence and states that these things need to be defined by the National Register of Historic Places. He stated that the issue of the spring is a National Register question and suggested that we talk to Carol Schull [the Keeper to the National Register]. He believes that the evidence should be weighed to determine whether it constitutes a community interest to some Native American community. He doesn’t believe that the evidence is there to support them.
He further went on to explain that this issue has been embarrassing to the Native American community because of the large amount of protesting with the lack of evidence to support the claim.
One month later MnDOT cut down the oak trees and proceeded with highway construction, but later state legislation forced a redesign of Highway 55 to protect the flow of water to the spring. In June 2000, after highway construction had been going on for over six months, the Advisory Council turned down a request to intervene. That year John Anfinson went to work for MNRRA, the agency now handling the Bureau of Mines process. What light, if any, can these statements said to have been made by Anfinson in 1999 cast on the “determination” of the Park Service about the Ethnographic Study in 2006? Assuming that Anfinson actually made the statements or something like them in 1999, one might argue that he has been biased since then against the idea of the spring as a TCP and that now he must have been a voice this year for rejecting the conclusions made by the authors of the Ethnographic Study. However, even if that were the case, Anfinson is a historian, someone who knows the importance of evidence. It is unlikely that Anfinson would have believed that the Park Service’s statement about the study would be an adequate response to such a thorough discussion of an issue as contained in the Ethnographic Study. He would know that if the Park Service wished to dispute the finding of its consultant, the response should be as detailed and as careful as the consultant’s analysis, and that any response should be in writing, so that the public can know the basis for the Park Service decision. [It turned out later that this was giving Anfinson too much credit.]
By now Anfinson must also understand what everyone else does, that the issue of Coldwater Spring is very different from the issue of the four oak trees. There was a wide range of opinion about the trees; there is unanimity about the spring, at least outside the Park Service. Anfinson spent many months in 2001 negotiating a draft Memorandum of Agreement that would have addressed the concerns of Minnesota Dakota about the protection of Coldwater Spring had the land been sold to the Metropolitan Airport Commission, a plan then under consideration. The agreement included this provision:
Whereas the Bureau of Mines Closure Team has consulted with the Upper Sioux Community, Lower Sioux Indian Community, Prairie Island Indian Community, Shakopee Mdewakanton Community, and the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma which may hereafter be referred to in this MOA as “concurring federally recognized tribes,” and they have declared the area around the Mississippi and Minnesota River confluence, specifically including Camp Coldwater Spring, culturally and historically important and have been invited to concur in this MOA.
Perhaps for purposes of reaching an agreement that all parties would support, this statement does not include the information that these federally recognized Indian groups also called Coldwater Spring a sacred place. Still the agreement acknowledges aspects of Dakota beliefs about the traditional importance of the spring. Having negotiated this agreement and knowing what he knows about the practice of history, John Anfinson would not likely suggest to the Park Service that a “Drop Dead” strategy on the idea of Coldwater as a TCP was a good idea.
Rather, the impetus for the Park Service’s stance must have come from someone so thoroughly steeped in bureaucratic methods and with little knowledge of the way the discipline of history works as to believe that the conclusion of a consultant can be rejected simply because someone at an agency says so.
Perhaps Anfinson or someone else could have explained to the Park Service how counterproductive this approach is. The Park Service’s stance does little to undercut the traditional cultural importance of Coldwater Spring, but it does do great damage to the Park Service itself. The Park Service’s arrogant assertions about Coldwater Spring have already had and will continue to have a profound and disproportionate effect on the federal government’s environmental review process relating to the disposal of the Bureau of Mines property. As a result it is unclear if the Park Service is capable of carrying out a fair and unbiased environmental review. The best that can be said is that some aspects of the Park Service’s Coldwater Spring agenda are now on the table for everyone to see, instead of being hidden by exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act.
Despite these statements it is now clear that the impetus for the Park Service’s stance on Coldwater came from John Anfinson, as was revealed in the next few years by a series of revelations, which were described in later accounts on this website.