Games that bureaucrats play with Native places—Is Coldwater Spring a TCP or is it a HPRCSIT?

Thank you for taking time to discuss the Bureau of Mines project in Hennepin County. Minnesota. The property covers 27 acres along a bluff above the Mississippi River and includes 11 buildings and the Coldwater Spring and Reservoir. . . . Although well-known as a site associated with Fort Selling’s history, the spring had not been recognized for any separate American Indian historic significance or associations until the late 1990s, when protests began over a nearby highway project. . . . The question I called you about concerned the difference between the evidence needed to determine a site eligible for the National Register as a TCP or as a site of “religious and cultural significance” to an American Indian tribe.letter of a MNRRA official to an official of the National Register of Historic Places, Feb. 27, 2009, discussing the possible status of Coldwater Spring as a Traditional Cultural Property or TCP.

For several years now the National Park Service has expressed its categorical rejection of the finding of its own expert that Coldwater Spring, which flows out of the ground on the Bureau of Mines Twin Cities Campus property in Hennepin County, Minnesota, is a place of traditional cultural importance for the Dakota and other Native people. The Park Service in the 2006 draft EIS relating to the disposition of the property rejected TCP status for the property and the final EIS released in December 2009 does not change that. In the interim the Park Service had received a great deal of comment and new information which could have led to a change in the determination. But as stated in the final EIS in volume 1, on page 23, there was little change (annotations added for greater clarity):

In support of the EIS planning process, an ethnographic resources study was completed at the Center (Terrell et al. 2005) [which came to the conclusion that Coldwater Spring was eligible for the National Register as a TCP]. The primary focus of this study was to document tribal use and perceptions of this area, to assess whether Camp Coldwater Spring constitutes a TCP under NHPA section 106 (16 U.S.C. 470f) or a sacred site under Executive Order 13007 (Indian Sacred Sites), and to identify any additional ethnographic resources present within the area of potential effect of the proposed action and alternatives being assessed in this EIS. A TCP is generally defined as a property that “is eligible for inclusion in the NRHP because of its association with cultural practices or beliefs of a living community that (a) are rooted in that community’s history, and (b) are important in maintaining the continuing cultural identity of the community” (Parker and King 1998).

After review of the study, the National Park Service has determined that [contrary to the conclusions of the Terrel, et. al.] Camp Coldwater Spring does not meet the criteria listed in the NRHP for designation as a TCP. However, Camp Coldwater Spring and Reservoir are culturally 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 EIS. A copy of the draft ethnography report was also provided to the Indian tribes and interviewees that participated in the study by the National Park Service. The ethnographic resources study will be sent to the Minnesota SHPO as part of the section 106 process occurring concurrently with this EIS.

The two paragraphs present a remarkable lack of explanation. If one could talk with Park Service officials one might ask whether there really is a meaningful distinction to be made between a site that is “eligible for inclusion in the NRHP because of its association with cultural practices or beliefs of a living community that (a) are rooted in that community’s history, and (b) are important in maintaining the continuing cultural identity of the community,” and a site that is “culturally important to some Indian people for ritual and ceremonial reasons.”

Where the water comes out of the ground at Coldwater Spring, March 2009 photo

Where the water comes out of the ground at Coldwater Spring, March 2009 photo

Lacking in the final EIS was a detailed explanation of how the Park Service reached the conclusion that Coldwater Spring was not a TCP. In the fall of 2006 an analysis was written by an unnamed author working in the MNRRA office and distributed to a few members of the public. The memo contained many statements that were highly debatable. Further, it was not even included in the final EIS. As a result,  the TCP determination of the Park Service about Coldwater Spring continues to appear arbitrary and capricious.

The text of the final EIS report does not reveal the name of the author of that phantom memo from October 2006. But the name is disclosed in a four-page letter buried in an Appendix to the final EIS. The letter was written by the same individual to an official of the National Register of Historic Places almost a year ago, in February 2009. That letter does reveal some evolution in the thinking of Park Service officials, but it is not clear if this evolution is actually progress.

Having categorically rejected the analysis that Coldwater Spring was a TCP, and asking the Dakota to provide documentary proof that it is, the official appears to twist himself in knots over the idea that the site could be accepted as a “historic property of religious and cultural significance to an Indian tribe,” or, one might say a HPRCSIT, simply based on the assertion of that fact by an Indian tribe. But in the course of the analysis the author manages to convince himself out of that idea, springing back to the Park Service’s original position.

The letter is a sad demonstration of bureaucratic hair-splitting and untenable requests that Indian people prove the veracity of their cultural heritage. But since it is in the public record as a subsidiary document to the final EIS (Appendix H, pages 145-148), the public needs to read it and make up its own mind. The text of the letter follows. I have added some discussion and links to helpful documents, especially when there are mistakes or inaccuracies in the text. Any other errors in the text may have resulted from the scanning process through which the fuzzy pdf found on the Park Service website was transformed into a digital text.

Further discussion of the letter will appear on this site in the days ahead.

Letter to written from an official in the National Park Service, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, St. Paul office to an official in the National Register Office in Washington, D.C.

February 27, 2009
Turkiya Lowe
National Park Service
National Register of Historic Places
1849 C Street, NW (2280)
Washington, DC 20240

Dear Ms. Lowe,

Thank you for taking time to discuss the Bureau of Mines project in Hennepin County. Minnesota. The property covers 27 acres along a bluff above the Mississippi River arid includes 11 buildings and the Coldwater Spring and Reservoir. Since the Bureau of Mines closed in 1996, the property reverted to the Department of the Interior and has been abandoned. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 3, oversees day to day management, and the National Park Service, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, is completing an Environmental Impact Statement (E1S) for potential disposition and treatment of the property. While the Draft EIS considered transfer of the property out of federal hands, the Department of the Interior has determined that the preferred alternative is to remove the 11 puddings, restore the land to a native landscape and return the property for management by the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. The exact treatment of the spring and reservoir will be resolved through consultation as we finalize the Section 106 process. [More on this in later installments.]

The Department of Interior and Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office have agreed that the Bureau of Mines campus is eligible for !he National Register of Historic places. Coldwater Spring and Reservoir are contributing elements to the Fort Snelling National Historic Landmark (NHL) and Fort Snelling National Register of Historic places Historic District. [It is not, and never will be, a comfort to Dakota people that Coldwater Spring is eligible for the National Register because of its association with a military fort that was involved in the exile of their people from Minnesota. ]

The project has a number of politically and emotionally charged issues tied to it. One concerns Coldwater Spring and its historical significance for American Indians. Although well-known as a site associated with Fort Selling‘s history, the spring had not been recognized for any separate American Indian historic significance or associations until the late 1990s, when protests began over a nearby highway project. Protestors, including some American Indians, found Coldwater Spring on the abandoned Bureau of Mimes property, and it became a gathering place. Since that time the spring’s significance as a spiritual place for some American Indians and for various groups of non Indians has grown. [Extensive information about the use of the site as a meeting ground for Dakota and Ojibwe–trading, dancing, participating in ceremonies together–during the 19th century was submitted to the Park Service in 2006. Even at that time the Park Service knew that the Ojibwe treaty signers for the celebrated Ojibwe Treaty of 1837–which was the subject of the Minnesota v. Mille Lacs treaty rights decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999–camped at Coldwater Spring. None of this made it into the final EIS.]

I have enclosed a number of documents concerning the project. One CD contains the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and the three cultural resources studies the NPS completed for the site. One is an ethnography that included a Traditional Cultural Property assessment, I have included a written copy of the analysis I wrote disagreeing with the study’s conclusion that Coldwater Spring qualified as a TCP. I added a CD of some PowerPoint images about the site’s history that might help put the site in context. Finally, 1 have enclosed the letter we recently sent to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation providing some background information regarding potential impacts to historic resources an the property under the preferred alternative. [The author appears to be taking credit for the so-called phantom memo, but was that memo an official analysis designed to support the EIS conclusion? Or was there another analysis that no one has seen? What was the process involved in the Park Service determination? Also, were the comments submitted to the Park Service for the draft EIS, which took issue with the record assembled by the Park Service, included with the submission to the National Register official?]

The question I called you about concerned the difference between the evidence needed to determine a site eligible for the National Register as a TCP or as a site of “religious and cultural significance” to an American Indian tribe. My question arose after reviewing the Advisory Council’s Consultation with Indian Tribes in the Section 106 Process: A Handbook.” On page 19, point 3. the Handbook states:

Within the Section 106 process, the appropriate terminology for sites of importance to Indian tribes is “historic property of religious and cultural significance to an Indian tribe.” Unlike the term TCP, this phrase appears in NHPA and the Section 106 regulations. It applies (strictly) to tribal sites, unlike the term TCP. Furthermore, Section 101(d)(6)(A) of the NHPA reminds agencies that historic properties religious and cultural significance to Indian tribes may be eligible for the National Register. Thus, it is not necessary to use the term TCP when considering whether a site with significance to a tribe is eligible for the National Register as part of the Section 106 process.

And on page 20. point 5, the Handbook says:

Is the federal agency required to verify a tribe’s determination of significance with archaeological or ethnographic evidence before making a National Register eligibility determination?

No. The agency is not required to verity a tribe’s determination that a historic property is of religious and cultural significance to the tribe, The ACHP regulations at 36 CFR 800.4(c)(1) state, in part, that “[t]he agency official shall acknowledge that Indian tribes . . . .possess special expertise in assessing the eligibility of historic properties; that may possess religious and cultural significance to them.” The National Register considers the information obtained from a tribe’s recognized expert to be a valid line of evidence in considering determinations of significance, For additional guidance on making eligibility determinations, the agency should consult with the staff of the National Register.

Given the above statements, it appeared that the simple assertion by a tribe that Coldwater Spring was National Register eligible or merited listing on the National Register required no documentation. After looking at the full context of 56 CFR 800.4(c)(l), I saw that it stated,

In consultation with the SHPO and any Indian tribe that attaches religious and cultural significance to identified properties and guided by the Secretary’s standards and guidelines for evaluation, the agency official shall apply the National Register criteria (36 CFR part 63) to properties identified within the area of potential streets that have not been previously evaluated for National Register eligibility.

So, it appears we are required to gather and evaluate the available documentation before making a determination of eligibility. This is what we have done and will continue to do. [Wait a minute: What happened to acknowledgement of the “the special expertise” of Indian tribes “ in assessing the eligibility of historic properties.” That is found in the same regulations too.]

The Willow tree next to the Coldwater Spring basin on a cold January evening, 2010

The Willow tree next to the Coldwater Spring basin on a cold January evening, 2010

The NPS does not have a National Register determination of significance from any tribe, but we do have a letter from the four recognized Dakota tribes in Minnesota dated September 13, 2000, stating that “It is well established that for centuries, the entire area around Coldwater Springs and the meeting place of the Minnesota and Mississippi River have held very significant cultural and practical importance to the Dakota.” And we have an October 12, 2006, resolution from the Lower Sioux Indian Community stating the Coldwater Spring is a sacred site and that “the Lower Sioux Indian Community publicly declares that Coldwater Springs arid the land surrounding it is a usual and accustomed place for the exercise of fundamental religious, spiritual and cultural purposes.” The resolution asserted that the Lower Sioux Indian Community should get the Bureau of Mines property. A number of other tribes have made claims to the land as well, and some Dakota ate insisting that it go to all the Dakota or a number of bands of the Dakota. Again, the DOI has stated that its preferred alternative is to keep the land and have the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area manage it. [What is meant here by the reference to “a National Register determination of significance” from a tribe? Does he mean that a tribe would have to do their own TCP study? What if the tribe simply asserted the historic and cultural significance of the place, as they have done? Do they have to utter the magic words “traditional cultural property,” for it to be a “determination”?]

The confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers lies about one mile from Coldwater Spring and is recognized as a place of historic and cultural importance to the Dakota We do not, however, have specific documentation regarding Dakota use of the spring. As you will see from my comments on the TCP determination and the ethnographic study, we have good contextual background on why the spring might be historically significant but almost no evidence concerning the specific use or importance of this particular spring to the Dakota. In contrast, other significant Dakota sites in the Twin Cities area have historic names and stones associated with them that have been known for hundreds of years. [The spring is also directly adjacent to and has been argued by Dakota people to be an integral part of Taku Wakan Tipi, the dwelling place of the water spirit who manifests himself in springs. Europeans have generally assumed that Taku Wakan Tipi was simply hill, but, in the 19th century, no one bothered to ask the Dakota what the boundaries of it were. Do you suppose that the spring flowing out of a hill in which the water spirit was said to dwell, might be seen as a pathway for that spirit? That is what many Dakota say, but maybe it requires verification by a bureaucrat.]

The NPS is not adverse to the site being a TCP or one of National Register religious or cultural significance. The NPS already recognizes the spring as a sacred site to the Lower Sioux based on their resolution. The NPS also recognizes the need to work closely with the Dakota to address their concerns regarding the spring, regardless of the Section 106 and National Register issues. We have sent over 20 tribes letters asking for direct consultation and will be following up with telephone calls. Whether considered a site of religious and Cultural significance or a TCP, the NPS simply would like more documentation that shows that the Dakota used the spring historically and for what so we can better plan for future use and possible restoration of Coldwater Spring as a natural area. [The real question being asked here is for the Dakota to prove that they really believe what they say they believe. How does one go about proving that to anybody? Beyond that: What does it mean to manage Coldwater Spring as a “natural area,” and is that environmental approach compatible with Dakota beliefs about sacred and culturally important places? In the TCP study Dakota people said that the sacred area for Coldwater Spring included where the water came from, where it came out of the ground, and where it went into the Mississippi River. Coldwater as a TCP is not just about the where the spring comes to the surface, but includes a broad area.]

Thank you for taking time to discuss this complex project with me and your willingness to help us work through any National Register issues that arise. The NPS will continue to work with the Minnesota SHPO and the tribes to as we finalize the E!S and Section 106 processes. The attached documents do not adequately convey the complexity of the issues surrounding the Bureau of Mines Property, and I am available to answer any questions you might have. . . . [Unfortunately the author has not been available since the release of the final EIS to answer questions on this issue from members of the public.]

Sincerely.
John O. Anfinson
Historian


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