Updated: A conversation between the Park Service and Waziyatawin–Another Coldwater email thread

[Updated, to include an additional email from Chris Mato Nunpa.]

Early on Wednesday, March 25, 2009, Steven P. Johnson of the National Park Service responded to the earlier posting on this site about a Villager article describing the February 23, 2009, Coldwater/ Bureau of Mines open house and to an email from Waziyatawin concerning the same article. Waziyatawin had stated:

I had hoped that your comments to me at the public hearing were sincere and that you were going to take actions to respect the concerns of the Dakota people.  I was, therefore, very disturbed to learn that the NPS staff people are still asserting such ludicrous perspectives that diminish Dakota actions and concerns.  All of the Indigenous people who spoke that night were Dakota people (save for someone who was Dakota and part Ojibwe), and fortunately, we have the video to prove it. I  hope that the NPS will take a different approach during the April public hearing.  If you create transparency, NPS folks and Dakota people can have an open conversation.  Your current tactics encourage the perpetration of lies, misrepresentations, and misinterpretations.

Email from Steven P. Johnson addressed to Waziyatawin and Bruce White, March 25, 2009

I suspect you both have had enough contact with newspaper reporters to know the National Park Service did not control the story that appeared in the Highland Villager, any more than we did the story that appeared in the Southside Pride. Some of our staff were interviewed. Who else the Villager reporter chose to interview was up to him. Despite Bruce’s comments to the contrary, the reporter was in attendance at the meeting.You may also not be aware that some of the story was factually incorrect and we have asked the Villager to print a correction. I don’t know if it will or not.

The purpose of the meeting and subsequent written public comment period, as you both know, was to gain public input on what it should mean to “restore” the site and the spring. While we continue to gather public comment on that topic (the comment period ends today), you and others continue to emphasize another subject: that of the future owner of the site. As we explained to you and others that night (and before and since), a determination of a future owner/manager of the site will be made by the property owner (the Department of the Interior) based on the yet-to-be-completed Final Environmental Impact Statement and the written comments received during a subsequent 30-day public comment period on the Final EIS. Comments on future ownership will need to be made again during that comment period, and we will at that time ensure everyone who has commented during the current period is aware of that.

As we discussed on February 23, a recommendation that the property be transferred to “the Dakota people” makes a good slogan at a rally, but doesn’t create an action the property owner can actually take. “The Dakota people,” while a justifiably proud and important people in Minnesota, isn’t an entity that can accept a deed to this or any other land. Land could only be deeded to a federally recognized tribe, or possibly a joint powers agreement among several tribes. It is also not clear who is empowered to speak for “the Dakota people. We are required to communicate with federally recognized tribes through the tribe’s elected leadership. While there are many Dakota people with diverse opinions, as a government agency we must respond to the tribal government. In the same way, we may get many comments on an issue from residents of the city of St. Paul, but the city’s official comments to us would come from the city’s elected leadership.

We were sincere in our comments that evening that there may be some way to accomplish much or all of what you seek for the future of the site. But it will require working through government process and not just slogans at a rally.

Paul Labovitz and Steven P. Johnson of the National Park Service speaking with Waziyatawin at the Coldwater/ Bureau of Mines open house, February 23, 2009

Paul Labovitz and Steven P. Johnson of the National Park Service speaking with Waziyatawin at the Coldwater/ Bureau of Mines open house, February 23, 2009

Let me be clear about the next steps in the process;

1. Today is the final day for public comments on how the site and spring should be restored.
2. We will soon be reviewing those comments and developing a plan for site restoration. I believe, from everything I’ve heard from you, that we are in general agreement about removal of the builidngs and other infrastructure on the site (roads, concrete pads, etc.).
3. We are currently working on preparation of the Final Environmental Impact Statement. It should be published early this coming summer.
4. Once the Final EIS is published, there will be a 30-day written comment period on the issues of site restoration AND future ownership/management of the site. Everyone who registered at the February 23 meeting and everyone who has sent in comments since will be notified about that comment period.
5. At the conclusion of that comment period, the Final EIS and all comments received will be transmitted to the property owner, the Department of the Interior.
6. Subsequent to receiving and reviewing that material, the Department of the Interior will make a decision about site restoration and future ownership/management, and will announce that decision in a document called a Record of Decision.
7. Once the Record of Decision is made public, implementation can begin.

Response from Waziyatawin to Steven P. Johnson, March 25, 2009

As I stated the evening of the rally, this whole process is a colonial process.  The government of the United States and its citizens worked to systematically break up the Dakota nation, to destroy our traditional governing structure and to replace it with new structures based on the U.S. model.  This was part of the colonization process.  As I explained to you already, for the government and its accompanying institutions to insist now, after more than 150 years of colonial intervention, that the only legitimate voice for Dakota people are the tribal councils, is highly problematic.  As a goverment employee supporting that position, you are doing your part as a good colonizing agent to uphold colonial rule.

Our claim to that land is much more than a slogan at a rally and I find your dismissal of our position deeply offensive.  As I stated on February 23rd, we will not give up that site.  Your actions now can either assist us in challenging the ways things are done, or you can help maintain the colonial status quo.  You can help make the case for return of the site to Dakota people, or you can make the case for keeping that site under colonial rule.  Either way your role will be well-documented and publicized and we will hold you accountable.

Email from Chris Mato Nunpa, May 27, 2009

I would like to add my voice re; the “slogan” – “Return the Land to the Dakota People.” I whole-heartedly agree and support the “slogan.” Also, I agree with Waziyata Win, my younger daughter, when she says that your characterization our position, of returning the land to the Dakota People, is a SLOGAN, and I agree with her when she says that it is “offensive.”

From my point of view, the position of returning the land to the Dakota People is a recognition of a historical proces. The land that we, the Dakota People, call “Mini Sota Makoce” (Land Where the Water Reflect the Skies & Heavens,” a reference to the thousands of lakes in our homeland), was stolen, was exploited, and its Dakota People were killed in the Minnesota Holocaust, and is currently occupied by the stealers of the land, the colonizers, the United State government and its Euro-American citizenry.

I am working with a group called the Oceti Sakowin Omniciye, the Seven Fires Summit, and with a sub-group called the Treaty of 1805 Task Force, as it is known by the International Indian Treaty Council.

We have tried once to get the Treaty of 1805 into the U.S. court system. The charges against our people were dismissed on a legal technicality re: the enforcement process, NOT on treaty issues. We now have, again, the Treaty of 1805 in the U.S. court system.

One of the interesting things about the first process was the judge wrote that the “Treaty of 1805 was not valid.” Our lawyers promptly submitted a brief stating that IF the Treaty of 1805 is not valid, then this means that no JURISDICTION over the 155,000+ acres involved in the treaty was transferred to the U.S. government from the Dakota Oyate (or, “the Sioux Nation of Indians”, a phrase used in the treaty). Furthermore, this means that no LAND was transferred from the Dakota Oyate (People, or Nation) to the U.S. government. Therefore, it was the Homeland Security personnel who were trespassing and NOT the Dakota People, who are the collective owners of the land. From my point of view, this means, also, that it is the National Park Service, and the other federal agencies, and the U.S. government, itself, who are trespassing on Dakota land, the land involved in the Treaty of 1805.

One additional point (among many additional points which could be made about the Treaty of 1805) is that only two Dakota leaders signed the treaty and these leaders, as I understand it, were Bdewakantunwan, “Dwellers By Mystic Lake.” In other words, only one “Fire” was represented out of the Seven Fires of the Dakota Oyate (“Nation” or “People”). These two individuals, in no way, represented the “Sioux Nation of Indians,” as they were fraudulently represented in the opening paragraph of the Treaty of 1805.

Another point is that a Mr. Jim Anderson and other Dakota People, from the Mendota Bdewakantun Dakota Community, have been serving as the protectors and defenders of the sacred sites, of the burial mounds, of the sacred objects, of the bones of our ancestors, etc. in the area around the Twin Cities, than land involved in the Treaty of 1805. It is logical, to me, that the land around the Coldwater Spring, be returned to the Dakota People, with the Mendota Dakota serving as the interim protectors, defenders, and keepers of the area until a council consisting of representatives from the Seven Fires (the Bdewakantunwan, the Wahpekute, the Wahpetunwan, the Sisitunwan, the Ihanktunwan, the Ihanktunwanna, the Ihanktunwann, and the Titunwan) can be designated as the keepers and protectors of this area which includes the sacred site, Coldwater Spring. The Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Fires, is the traditional form of Dakota government and it was this form of government which made treaties with the various foreign powers, including the United States of America.

We, perhaps I should say “I”, believe that your law, U.S. law, protects the U.S. Euro-American citizenry and its colonial institutions and agencies (e.g. the National Park Service, et. al.), and it does NOT protect the interests and rights of the Dakota People and that of other Indigenous Peoples. Treaties, in addition to being “the Supreme Law of the Land,” according to your sacred document, the U.S. Constitution, Article 6, are INTERNATIONAL LAW. This is why we are exhausting the U.S. legal (“yours”, the U.S.) processes before we take it to a world forum such as the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and to some international legal forum or court. We wish to bring International law to bear on this situation involving Coldwater Spring and on the 155,000+ acres involved in the treaty, and upon all of our treaties. The Treaty of 1805 has already been brought to the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), a NGO, a Non-Governmental Organization, of the United Nations, and it is NOW recognized by the IITC.

It is my understanding that President Obama is recommending that Native/Indigenous Nations have a seat at the United Nations, which means that our (Indigenous) concerns and issues will be represented before the world, before the nations of the world!!

Our Dakota People were once a strong nation and the U.S. government recognized this and made a number of treaties with us, including the Treaty of 1805. Then,we were killed off. The Dakota People became the objects of genocide perpetrated by the U.S. government, the state of Minnesota,, and by its Euro-Minnesotan citizenry. This genocide included: bounties on us, two concentration camps, mass executions, the warfare, forced marches, calls of “Extermination or Removal” by Ramsey, the governor, down to the Euro-Minnesotan citizenry, and forced removals, etc. All of these actions fit the criteria of the UN Genocide Convention of 1948. So, we were reduced to our current pitiful state, a state of colonization, oppression, and exploitation. And people, like you, which is most of the U.S. Euro-American society, do not take our concerns seriously and dismiss, disregard, and disparage our concerns. The idea of “might make right” is rampant, and the notion “white might makes white right” is even more so in U.S. Euro-American society.

I have “cc-ed” both Mr. Bill Means, a founder of the International Indian Treaty Council, and to Ms. Andrea Carmen, the Executive Director of the International Indian Treaty Council.

In spite of the arrogance and hypocrisy of the U.S. government and its Euro-American citizenry, and in spite of the fact that we are facing overwhelming odds, and in spite of the fact that the U.S. law works against Dakota concerns and interests, WE WILL CONTINUE TO FIGHT. Our struggle is RIGHT! We have our spirituality and TRUTH on our side!

Hau, wanna henana epe kte. “Yes, that is all if have to say now.” Hecetu kte. “It shall be so.”

Thank you for reading this.

 Chris Mato Nunpa, Ph.D., Dakota, Wahpetunwan (“Dwellers In the Leaves”),  Retired, Former Associate Professor  Pezihuta Zizi Otunwe, “Yellow Medicine Community,” Indigenous Nations & Dakota Studies (INDS) (or, in BIA/colonizer terms, Upper Sioux Community)


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