Treaty rights in Minnesota under the 1855 Ojibwe treaty

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in her 1999 opinion upholding hunting and fishing rights in the case of Minnesota v. Mille Lacs: “We interpret Indian treaties to give effect to the terms as the Indians themselves would have understood them.” She said that to interpret the meaning of specific treaty provisions, one had to look “beyond the written words to the larger context” that framed the treaty—the history of the negotiations and the “practical construction adopted by the parties.”

Stories and articles have recently appeared in Minnesota newspapers and other media about assertions of hunting and fishing rights under the 1855 Ojibwe treaty, which covers a large chunk of northern Minnesota. Since I was an expert witness for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in 1994 in their treaty case involving the Treaty of 1837, I have been asked by several reporters to comment about the issues raised by several Ojibwe groups about the Treaty of 1855. I have talked with some of these reporters, but I do not plan to tell them my opinion about the meaning of the 1855 treaty for hunting and fishing rights in the area covered by that treaty.

Normally it is a terrible idea for anyone who gives expert historical testimony in treaty cases to talk to reporters about their opinions of those treaties. My full opinion on any treaty does not consist of any single casual remark I might make about it (or, for that matter, a single piece on a blog I might write about it). No matter how carefully you might state your opinions about an issue when speaking to a reporter you never can be sure how much of it or in what form it is going to be reported. In an article by  Dennis Anderson in the Star Tribune last week, I am quoted saying something about the difference between the Mille Lacs case and the current discussion of 1855 treaty rights. Reading this article I can see a little ambiguity in how my opinions were reported. I am not faulting Dennis Anderson for this, because it is really inevitable when an article only includes a few of the things you’ve told the person who wrote it. But since Anderson’s article is on the public record I need to clarify a point about what I told him. Here’s how I was quoted:

“They [the bands] are making a different kind of argument here, and it’s more challenging,” said Bruce White, a St. Paul historical anthropologist who was among the Mille Lacs band’s expert witnesses in their successful U.S. Supreme Court petition.

“In the Mille Lacs case, the 1855 treaty came up because there was no explicit termination of hunting, fishing and gathering rights in it. That meant the rights still existed. I’m not saying [the Leech Lake and White Earth treaty case] is impossible. But it’s challenging.”

The point I was making here was that the 1855 treaty included no specific termination of the treaty rights reserved in the 1837 treaty. Since the 1855 treaty did not explicitly terminate them, that meant that the 1837 rights were not affected by the 1855 treaty. That was essentially how the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the issue in 1999. As Justice O’Connor put it: “An analysis of the history, purpose, and negotiations of this [1855] Treaty leads us to conclude that the Mille Lacs Band did not relinquish their 1837 treaty rights in the 1855 Treaty.”

But what about other hunting and fishing rights, in the area ceded under the 1855 treaty? That is a question that was not settled by the 1999 Supreme Court decision. When I spoke to Dennis Anderson I did not say anything about the hunting and fishing rights in the area of the 1855 treaty under that same treaty, except to say that it could be a more challenging case to mount than the Mille Lacs case for a number of reasons. But it certainly is a case that could be made. It depends, in part, on what research into the history of the treaty would show.

To really know about the issue of treaty rights under the 1855 treaty, about the rights that were preserved in the treaty territory (which borders, but is not the same area as the 1837 area) you or I would have to study the issue in great detail, compiling all the available information about the historical context of the treaty and the understanding of the Indian people who signed it. There are a lot of common features among treaties, but there is no substitute for studying the context of each individual treaty.

The main point though, remains, and it is the reason that I spoke to Dennis Anderson and may speak to other reporters: It is important to understand that Indian treaties are the law of the land. They are not old forgotten documents. They are an enduring legacy for all of us, not just Indian people. They must be interpreted in the light of the understanding of the Indian people who signed them, and within the full historical context of their signing.

For more on this you can read an article of mine which is coming out in a new book in a couple of weeks. The article is called “The Myth of the “Forgotten” Treaty: Traditions about the St. Peters Treaty of 1837″ and it will appear in The State We’re In: Reflections on Minnesota History, edited by Annette Atkins and Deborah L. Miller, to be published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press (Publication date: June 1, 2010, $24.95).  It is a collection of papers from a conference in 2008 that marked the 150th anniversary of Minnesota. Treaties are an important legacy of Minnesota’s history. That’s the bottom line.

Fort Snelling is “falling apart”

There will be mixed feelings among many about the announced retirement of Nina Archabal, long-time director of the Minnesota Historical Society. People may have disagreements about the legacy she leaves in the institution she led. The good news is what Archabal said in the interview reported in the Pioneer Press this morning. Archabal stated that Fort Snelling would be a challenge for whoever replaces her as director of the Society: “The new director will have to ‘figure out how to knit Fort Snelling back together; it’s like Humpty Dumpty, it’s falling apart. That’s probably a 10-year undertaking.'”

Unfortunately too many people, including some in the Minnesota Historical Society, view Fort Snelling as a stone and mortar problem. What is really falling apart is the historical consensus that led to the fort’s reconstruction in the 1960s. The problems with Fort Snelling are conceptual and philosophical ones. Spending more money on construction cannot solve those problems.

That is the real challenge for the new director of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Reconstruction of the commissary at Fort Snelling in 1974. Minnesota Historical Society photograph

The incredibly imperceptibly unpersuasively pervasive influence of the Mystical Lake!

By Daniel Shagobince

The multifarious, extensively pervasive, unpersuasively extensive, existential influence of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and its Mystical Lake Casino is made embarrassingly clear when you go to the Star Tribune web site to read about the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Wolfchild case, a decision that does a great job of shoring up the revenues from Mystical Lake Casino for the paltry percentage of Dakota people in Minnesota who are officially enrolled members of the alleged Shakopee community. If you click on that itty bitty metaphorical buttony thing that helps you to print out the article, an ad for Mystical Lake will appear on your printed page. This mystical and transcendental, juxtapositional conflagration is made possible because the Strib has imposed a new innovative way to make money from its readers, through a logarithm aka logrolling rythm created by those humanitarians at Format Dynamics (what a stupendously, crypto-fatalistically tendentious company name!) by forcing them to print out the advertising it sells. And who can blame Mystical Lake for insisting that its ads be lined up with stories to tie into its majorly important source of income? Hey, check it out! You can get the March/ April package, even though it is already April. Mystical Lake even has time travel packages! Whoah! Can I go back to 1976? That was a great year. If I went back think of the things I could tell myself, or maybe my father or my grandfather (depending on how old I allegedly am).

Shakopee’s Mystical Lake–or maybe Mystical Lake’s Shakopee–spreads its pervasively internet-like web of influence everywhere through ads and through the liquid money it gives to tribes throughout the entire universe. They even give money to needy Klingon tribes!  Shakopee is real generous,  but the only tribal people who have never benefited from Mystical Lake’s money are the descendants of people who were once part of the Shakopee Band of Dakota–you know, the one that really existed, back in the day.

That’s right. There was a Dakota chief named Shakopee and he had a village, back in the day. But that was before all the Dakota people were rounded up and driven out of eastern Minnesota to the Upper Minnesota River Valley and before 1862 and before the Dakota were rounded up again and driven out of Minnesota entirely and before the U.S. government kidnapped the chiefs Shakopee and Medicine Bottle in Canada and brought them back to Fort Snelling and hanged them right outside the walls of Fort Snelling. WTF? How come they didn’t re-enact the hanging of Shakopee in 2008 when Minnesota celebrated the Ginormetennial of the state of Minnesota? That would have been something, a fabulous way to tell the true history. Jane Leonard, chair (table?) of the Ginormetennial of Minnesota was really asleep on that one!

Shakpe or Shakopee, the chief kidnapped in Canada and hauled back to Minnesota, to be hanged just outside outside the walls of Historic Fort Snelling (viewed in the background of this image from the Minnesota Historical Society website) in one of the may corrupt and stupid chapters in the sorry, disgusting history of Minnesota. Opinion Alert! Opinion Alert!

Okay. Let’s get serious about this. What most of  “you people”–all you wasichoos and mokes and haoles–do not seem to get is that the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community was made up in 1968–literally made up–of many people who never had any connection to Shakopee’s village of days gone by. In other words, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community does not exist! It is an oxymoron, kind of like a Republican with compassion or a Democrat with real money. Some of Shakopee’s members, it has been said, are not even Dakotas! (Okay, maybe I can’t prove that myself and even if the Shakpemopolitans are not Dakotas, but they are probably  Siouan.) Where did the “Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community” come from? That’s a complicated story for another day. Go find a historian to tell you. Believe me, it’s complicated!

Why am I telling you this? Hey, I just thought you ought to know. Why should you listen to me? I don’t know cause I’m just a mystically unlabelled sextupally elusive person of indefinably vague characteristics who thought you ought to know. But then you probably won’t believe me because you only believe what comes from reliable sources, like Fox news or the Stribune or MPR or KARE or other media outlets that carry Mystical Lake commercials. Anyway, I’m just saying. Take it for what its worth. Enough said. For now. . . .

Hey wait a minute! You’re not going to put a warning line on this at the bottom are you? That’s cold. What’s so wrong with what I said! It’s just Shakopee, c’mon. Your talking like I said something bad about the Pope or Oprah, or maybe the Popra, or even Nina Archabal. Say did you hear that lady is going to retire, OMG, I can’t believe it. You should put something about that on your site. . . . . Okay, fine, I gotta go too.

NOTICE: The opinions of Daniel Shagobince and the other commentators on this site are their own and do not represent those of

Crow Creek and Coldwater Spring

The following analysis was written in January 2010, to discuss two important issues, the effort by the Internal Revenue Service to seize land belonging to the Crow Creek Sioux Creek, and the rejection by the National Park Service of claims by the Dakota for Coldwater Spring. Since this was written an agreement was reached between the IRS and Crow Creek allowing the tribe to buy back their own land. But in mid-January the National Park Service asserted that it plans to keep Coldwater Spring and continue to reject any Dakota claims to the land.

In support of a petition on Crow Creek land seizure and National Park Service seizure of Coldwater Spring, under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868

By Jason Wakiyan Thunderbird Spears, First Nations United

This petition is for the Crow Creek Nation’s 7,100 acres of land – to stop the Internal Revenue Service from seizing sovereign tribal land; and to preserve and protect Coldwater Spring, a historic habitat and sacred site of the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota. Both of these issues are covered under Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. However, the federal Government is using the older 1805 treaty to try to take what it wants from the remaining Tribal lands because of an error they claim voids the treaty.

Coldwater Spring Sacred and Environmental Site

First Nations United is an intertribal organization that helps care for our Native community. The National Park Service completed a 411 page Environmental Impact Statement on December 12, 2009, which is phase 10 of a 12-step plan concerning Coldwater Spring, with a public comment period ending Jan 11, 2010. We want to make sure that any scheduled demolition of buildings using heaving equipment is done during hard ground freeze to prevent permanently damaging the fault lines over the aquifer that keeps the ancient spring pure. For more than a decade, people have been working to preserve the site, including Senator Paul Wellstone, Governor Ventura, Congressman Sabo, American Indian Movement, Minneapolis Park Board, Mayor Rybak, Minnesota Dakota Communities and Ojibwe Communities; Dakota communities outside of Minnesota, including Crow Creek and Santee. But the daily flow of the spring has decreased since the highway 55 reroute, and continues to lose water; therefore the proper demolition of the buildings is crucial for the fragile state of the fault lines. First Nations United would prefer that the land be returned to indigenous control, but insists that if if it remains park land, the integrity of the spring be the highest priority in the environmental clean-up. When Hwy. 55 was rerouted, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) promised “no adverse impact” to Coldwater Spring, which is losing more than 27,500 gallons daily since construction ended, according to MnDOT’s own measurements. Any further impact to the spring could have devastating results.

Crow Creek- Sovereign Dakota Land

According to the Alaska Intertribal Council: On December 3, 2009 the Internal Revenue Service auctioned off 7,100 acres located on Crow Creek Sioux Tribal land. The land is owned by Crow Creek Tribal Farms, Inc. a Tribal corporation and distinct legal entity from the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe. According to the recent motion for temporary restraining order, filed by the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, the IRS seized and auctioned the land to recover $3,123,789.73 dollars in unpaid employment taxes. The federal government is claiming that because of the farm being a corporation, and not “traditional” tribal land, it is not exempt from taxes. However, the tribe was never informed of this previously, and because of this “erroneous” tax advice received from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe is considered delinquent in the payment of employment taxes collected by the IRS beginning in 2003. The BIA had informed the Tribe that, because it was a federally recognized Tribe, it was not necessary to pay federal employment taxes.

The Crow Creek Sioux Tribe is consistently documented as one of the poorest reservations in the nation, with 78% of their members living below the poverty line. The unemployment rate is over 80% as well, and has been so for decades. This action by the IRS, could ultimately eliminate 20% of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe’s reservation lands and could ultimately set a precedent, allowing the continual land grab on sovereign tribal lands. We want to prevent and block the transfer of these lands so that they can continue to be used as the primary source of income for the Crow Creek tribal members. Currently, the lands are slated to be part of a wind farm project that will provide employment and power for both the tribe and the people of South Dakota, and if the land is taken, the federal government will reap all the benefits and sell the energy to the local citizens, both tribal and non-tribal.

The federal government is further claiming that due to a technicality in the 1805 treaty, none of the lands thought to be ceded to the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota Tribes are actually legally theirs. They are claiming that since the president’s signature does not appear on the 1805 treaty, that it was never completed. But the 1805 treaty is not even the most current treaty. The one most people are familiar with is the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, which was drafted shortly after the creation of the state of Minnesota (1858), and allowed those in charge of the state to send the indigenous tribes to South Dakota to land that was considered “uninhabitable”, which is what we now call the Crow Creek Reservation. This land was not useful for growing crops cr habitation, and is now only of interest to the federal government because of how windy it is there. This follows the long pattern of systematic abuse and theft of any resource controlled by Native Americans.

Connections between the lands in question:

The State of Minnesota has to admit that the state was born from the biood of the innocent. The state and the federal government are guilty of the murder of countless Dakota/Lakota/Nakota peoples, and the theft of their lands. Now the states of Minnesota and South Dakota and the federal government are working jointly to take back the lands that were originally used as prison and refugee camps. The tribes were forcibly marched for 250 miles to Fort Snelling, and were held there until Minnesota decided to forcibly remove them to Crow Creek, via the Missouri river. Eventually the tribes were moved to Nebraska as a gesture of “kindness” after the Crow Creek lands were deemed useless for living on at that time by the federal government.

Fears about a major Iron Range historical collection

What will happen to the endangered archival collection in the Iron Range Research Center (IRRC) on the campus of the Minnesota Discovery Center (MDC), formerly known as Ironworld Discovery Center? The fate of the archives, which opened in 1980, is up in the air because of the closing of the center in the fall of 2009, due to funding cutbacks.

The center’s collections contain thousands of cubic feet of unpublished materials including government records, personal records, church records, and records of numerous business, civic, and social organizations. They include the papers of former governor Rudy Perpich, mining company newsletters, maps, photographs – many very rare, oral histories, and microfilmed newspapers. According to Barbara Sommer, whose book, Hard Work and a Good Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps in Minnesota, based in part on research in IRRC collections, won a 2009 Minnesota Book Award and a 2009 Northeastern Minnesota Book Award:

Its [IRRC] collections contain archival materials that cannot be found elsewhere. . . . They represent “stunning examples” of materials documenting “people’s history” of 20th century America and Minnesota. As a former historical organization director, I know the task of preserving the materials and making them accessible … is not easy. But I also know we in Minnesota are proud of our history and supportive of protecting it.

The Ironworld Development Corporation (IDC) manages and operates the Minnesota Discovery Center, including the Iron Range Research Center. This is done under a contract with Iron Range Resources, a state economic development agency with funding from a taconite production tax. Rick Puhek, IDC Board chair, stated in a February 11, 2010, press release the Board remains committed to re-opening the Minnesota Discovery Center.

Aaron J. Brown, author of Overburden, Modern Life on the Iron Range, wrote on his blog on December 14, 2009, the Iron Range Resources Board had approved a $450,000 expenditure to the Minnesota Discovery Center “to pay some bills, do an audit of the operation, heat the buildings, secure its historical documents, and also to reopen the facility to those who want to use its vast collection of area research data.” For more information from Brown, see his blog. To date, although the audit has been completed, the Iron Range Research Center remains closed.

Researchers hope a sustainable operating plan for the Minnesota Discovery Center would include preserving, protecting, and maintaining IRRC collections intact and housed permanently on the Iron Range, continuing the Center’s purpose as a repository for materials documenting Minnesota’s Iron Ranges. If you would like to add your support for maintaining the IRRC collections intact and housed permanently on the Iron Range, contact:

Sandy Layman, Commissioner
Iron Range Resources
P.O. Box 441
4261 Highway 53 South
Eveleth, Minnesota 55734-0441

Senator David J. Tomassoni- DFL, District 05

Rep. Tom Rukavina – DFL, District 05A

Rep. Anthony “Tony” Sertich – DFL, District 05B

“I didn’t do it!”–Explanations for MNRRA’s incompetent Coldwater history

John Anfinson, historian with the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area or MNRRA, the branch of the National Park Service that recently completed the Environmental Impact Statement for the Bureau of Mines Twin Cities Campus property in Hennepin County, Minnesota, wants to make sure you understand that he did not write the historical sections of the EIS.

If a historian familiar with the history of the Minnesota region had written this portion of the EIS or the historical study included with the EIS, perhaps he or she would have done it more competently. In 2005 Anfinson had thought he might be involved with writing the historical portions of the EIS, but, in an email to me, he wrote:

Thanks for your thorough comments for the scoping process. I wanted to get back to you on something. I had told you that I would be writing the Affected Environment and Environmental Effects sections of the EIS. I talked to Kim [Berns] about this, and she let me know that the EIS contractor will be doing this. I told her that I wanted significant input to how these sections were handled and would be reviewing them carefully. I will be meeting with the historian who is going to write them and will let him know what I expect.

Shortly after that Anfinson gave me the name of Chris Baker as the particular historian with the government contractor E2M whom he had been informed would be writing those sections of the report. Baker is currently said to be an expert in land use and management and Pueblo and Southwestern U.S. history. While he is listed in the final EIS as one of its preparers and contributers, he is only one of many names listed in a one-and-a-half page list that also includes the name of John Anfinson (See FEIS, vol 1, pages 325-26).

In September 2006, after the release of the draft EIS for the property, Anfinson, in a conversation with me, defended the historical portions of the EIS, not because they were good or complete or accurate, but because whatever they lacked was unnecessary. He admitted that they were not very good, but asked the rhetorical question: “If they were any better would it make any difference?”

Subsequently, MNRRA fended off all changes to the historical portions of the EIS. The agency or a contractor working for it, responded to criticisms of the adequacy of historical information contained in the EIS, stating, for example on page 377 of the FEIS: “The information gathered for the EIS and Section 106 process is substantive enough.” The statement echoed that of Anfinson in 2006, which suggests that Anfinson himself may have been involved in the crafting of these responses, if not of the flawed historical narrative in the report.

Since the completion of the final EIS and the announcement of the decision by the National Park Service that the Bureau of Mines property will remain under the management of MNRRA, Anfinson has declined to respond to many requests for comment on the adequacy of the EIS. In December and January when I asked for explanations about how little the historical sections of the EIS had changed in the final EIS, despite many comments submitted in 2006, Anfinson declined the opportunity to respond at all.

Anfinson has indicated that he will answer the questions of some people, just not those of other historians. Recently he did respond to an email from an Coldwater supporter: “There has been much written on the web about us and this process that is simply untrue and misleading.  If you would like to talk about any of it, please call.” More recently, in an in-person  conversation with Anfinson, a member of a Coldwater preservation group reported to other members that the MNRRA historian said he did not write the history section of the final EIS “and thinks it’s inadequate. But he said that particular narrative is not necessary for the NPS to take care of the area. The NPS recognizes the importance of Coldwater and will treat it accordingly.”

This report is consistent with those made by Anfinson in the past. And the statement again raises questions about what purposes the historical sections of an EIS serve. An EIS is designed to provide a basis for decision-making. It is intended to show that the decisions reached by an agency are based on an adequate factual record of information.

In what sense can an inadequate record of historical information be said to be substantive enough for the decision the agency reaches? In the case of the Bureau of Mines property, the decision the agency was seeking to gather information about, had to do, in part, with the proper treatment of the historical and cultural resources present there. A key point that had been raised about those resources had to do with their historical and cultural importance to Native people, particularly the Dakota. The EIS said very little about the Native history of the site and rejected the conclusion of the Park Service’s own contractor that the site was a TCP or traditional cultural property for the Dakota or anyone else.

In what sense could this historical record be said to be “substantive enough” for decision-making by the Park Service? The fact that the Bureau of Mines site is important historically and culturally to the Dakota–as the site of creation for the people–is an important aspect of the site. Acknowledging and documenting this nature of the site is an important first step to dealing with the cultural and environmental nature of the Bureau of Mines property. Yet the agency that refuses to recognize the Dakota importance of the site has now been given the property. And agency officials believe that this refusal to recognize the Dakota importance of the site will have no effect on their management of the property.  In January Steven P. Johnson, another MNRRA official  stated

However, there are no environmental effects associated with the actual ownership; the eventual owner would have to agree to manage the property in terms of the selected alternative, especially if the government will go to some expense to prepare the property for that transfer.

What Johnson and other MNRRA officials fail to understand is that their own ownership of the property is the issue. Their ownership has the potential to have profound environmental effects.  Given that the agency has refused to accept the historic and cultural character of the property for Dakota people, how can MNRRA’s ownership–or the ownership of any other agency that does not accept the character of the site for the Dakota–be said to be a neutral effect on the property?

Although there were proposals for the property by specific Dakota tribal groups, it appears from the public record assembled by MNRRA, this was not an option the agency explored. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that because Dakota ownership of the property was not explored by MNRRA, the decision was made by the agency not to include the information about the importance of the site to the Dakota.

In his recent conversation with a Coldwater preservation supporter, Anfinson appears to have discussed the topic of Dakota ownership of the property. According to the report I received from the preservation group, Anfinson noted that the decision of the Park Service about who should get the BOM property was affected by the fact that the JoAnn Kyral, superintendent of MNRRA until 2006 did not want MNRRA to receive the property, while the current superintendent Paul Labovitz did. According to the report of the conversation with Anfinson this week:

Interestingly he also mentioned that the former superintendant didn’t want Coldwater, but the current one does. It makes sense to me as to why nothing happened for a long time in this process.the old superintendent didn’t want Coldwater in the NPS, and they didn’t know which tribe would take it without pissing off the other tribes, it left the Dept of the interior in an odd position.

The explanation appears to be an accurate interpretation of the change in approach of MNRRA toward the property. Coldwater supporters remember clearly that until 2006 the agency stated that it did not and, could not, manage the property for the long term. But the account also gives self-serving explanation for what occurred in the EIS process in relation to Dakota ownership of the property. It appears disingenuous to claim that the rejection of Dakota proposals for the property was based purely on the conclusion that giving the property to one Dakota group would “piss off” the others Dakota communities. Labovitz’s desire for the property appears to be the more significant factor in the decision-making and in giving the Dakota history and culture short shrift in the EIS.

Now, however, after the announcement of the decision to keep the property under MNRRA, John Anfinson would like people to know that the agency does know the history of the site and will “treat it accordingly.” The degree of confidence one has in MNRRA on this point will depend on how much one is willing to trust an agency which has refused to record or acknowledge in public the Native history and cultural meaning of the site. Second-hand reports of vaguely reassuring off-hand comments in private meetings are no real basis for confidence.

Respecting what we hold sacred

“In our creation story of where we first began as people on this earth, that place was sacred long before anybody from Europe arrived and saw the place. . . . We hold our lands sacred, but these lands are more sacred because of the history, because of the myth and what we are pleading for is some understanding. . . . This is more than an argument over a plot of land. It is a debate of two cultures and the understanding of the sacredness and what is sacred.” Eleven years ago on February 26, 1999, Dakota spiritual leader and Episcopal minister Rev. Gary Cavender spoke these words in a moving speech at a press conference relating to opposition to the construction of Highway 55 through the Coldwater Spring area near Fort Snelling in Hennepin County, Minnesota. Despite the clarity of his words, the knowledge they contain has been questioned time and time again by those seeking to undermine Dakota claims to the area. Rev. Cavender died in April 2009. His words are worth hearing again.

Text of Rev Gary Cavender’s Speech at Representative Karen Clark’s Press Conference February 26, 1999 -Camp Coldwater

We are coming here to talk about sacred land, and especially the sacredness of that place. In our creation story of where we first began as people on this earth, that place was sacred long before anybody from Europe arrived and saw the place. Because of the topography of the land and because of the coming together of two great rivers (Minnesota and Mississippi) it is called “Md ote” or the throat of the waters, and they named a town after it–Mendota–although it is pronounced altogether different.

In our Creation myth we the Dakota, the Seven Fires of the Dakota, came from the belt of Orion–the seven planets of the belt of Orion, the seven stars–and arrived at the convolution of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, and so in some respects it is our Eden, and the land around there is sacred as well. There is that sacred spring that is in negotiation, that sacred spring is the dwelling place of Unktehi, the God of the Waters, and in that spring there is an underground river that goes into the big river, and that is his passageway to get out into the world. To block the sacred passageway would be courting with drought and things of that nature that have to do with water, because after all, this is the God of the water. So when you hear a thunderstorm and it starts to rain, that is the underwater God having battle with the Sky God and the reason for that battle is so that the rain may come down and replenish the earth, and the Sky God is fighting–throwing down thunderbolts to fertilize the land. That is a scientific fact, and so it is not without reason that this land should be sacred to us, and so the Underwater God lives there. We came there as human beings and so that is our Eden, and the irony of it all is that in 1862-1863 that was almost the end of us as people, because that was the Ft. Snelling concentration camp. It may have been a full circle for us–the beginning and the ending, which is sacred in and of itself, but the land is sacred. The high bluffs where we went to track provisions, the throat of convolution of the 2 rivers where we got our start and almost where we got our ending. There are bodies there, there is a sacred cemetery there. Maybe all of it is gone but it is still sacred.

We hold our lands sacred, but these lands are more sacred because of the history, because of the myth and what we are pleading for is some understanding. To understand our sense of sacredness of the land. To  use our image as the ultimate environmentalists–we may not be, but we have a connection to the land that perhaps you don’t understand and so this is more than an argument over a plot of land. It is a debate of two cultures and the understanding of the sacredness and what is sacred. We can’t say that the land has nothing on it and disregard the sacredness and go ahead and build on it. Wasicun seem to have the ability to prioritize, and when it comes to progress, spirituality or sacredness takes a back seat to progress. We don’t have that understanding, it is not in us, even though we’ve been in your culture for at least 200 years now and we’ve only been citizens of our own land since 1925. So how can we expect you to understand those things when you didn’t even recognize us as human beings until the 20th Century. But what we’re asking for is the beginning of understanding. Use this sacred place as a neutral ground to start a journey of understanding each other and leave it alone. Our people’s beginning spirits are there and our people’s ending spirits are there. All of the Gods are there. The Wakan Tanka is there. The Wakan Tanka is everywhere and so for us it’s only a ltittle patch of land we’re asking for. The economy isn’t going to collapse. There is an alternative way to solve the problem, but for us it is a great, great sacrifice and we’ve sacrificed so much for so long. All we’re asking for is a little understanding and perhaps respecting what we hold sacred!

Getting at the truth in history

Henry Ford, or maybe it was Harry Truman, said that the trouble with history was that it was “one damn thing after another.” Other people say that historians are god-like because they can make history in their own image. George Santayana said “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Sergeant Joe Friday, on the show Dragnet said: “All we want are the facts.” Patricia Hampl wrote at the beginning of her poem Resort: “The point of this place: don’t ask for much, ask/ for everything. Get: details as everywhere.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that everyone was entitled to his or her own opinion but no one was entitled to his or her own set of facts.

All of these thoughts are worth considering when thinking about the process of gathering information to figure out what happened in the past. Let’s suppose you are doing research on the history of bathtub use by early European-Americans in Minnesota.  Suppose that one of the drawbacks or, perhaps, attractions to writing about this subject is that there are many people with very decided opinions about the topic.

For example, some people may say that in the 1840s and 1850s, when white settlement began in Minnesota, taking baths was not a common practice anywhere in the United States. They say that people just didn’t have a real hangup about bathing. They say that for people then cleanliness was not next to godliness, nor was it all that important. They say that the first European-Americans in Minnesota never bathed. On the other hand there are other people who claim that cleanliness was sweeping the country. They say that bathing was all the rage, especially in places like Minnesota where there was plenty of water to spare, except in the winter when all the water was frozen. And even then they would melt the ice and bathe in it, or cut holes in the ice on lakes and jump in for a brisk soak.

So if you plan to do research and write about the topic of bathtubs in the first years of European-American settlement of Minnesota, you have to be aware of this controversy and you have to expect that at some point you are going to have to express an opinion on this controversy. But, regardless, in doing research on the subject you are going to want to look at all the available documents about the subject, oral history, letters, newspaper articles, books, even works of fiction, to figure out not only whether people in Minnesota in those days had bathtubs, but also how they used them.

You will want to be very thorough abut this, to get all the facts and all the details. And even though there is this widespread controversy on “Cleanliness in 19th-century America,” you can’t just set out to prove that Americans in the 19th century did or did not care about being clean. You can have a theory about that, but you have to keep an open mind. You have to look at all the facts that you find and then draw some firmer conclusions. Otherwise your work will be a real stretch. If you decide beforehand, before you’ve looked at all the information, you will look like an idiot, someone just picking an choosing from among the facts to prove your point.

If you write about the topic and ignore or leave out some of the information and it turns out that that information contradicts what you’ve written then you are going to look pretty silly, unless you are willing to incorporate the new information and show, somehow how it either proves your point or how you have changed your theory to mesh with the facts. Suppose you write: “There were no bathtubs in early Minnesota,” and then someone finds half a dozen letters describing bathtubs on farms and in towns like Chatfield, Red Wing, Dawson, and Alexandria how will you be able to explain that your statement was accurate? One way to justify your description of the lack of bathtubs is to attack the messenger, saying, for example, that the person who provided the information was an idiot, an adulterer, a vivisectionist, or an opponent of highway construction and should therefore not be believed. Or you could even pretend that the contrary evidence proving your theory wrong simply did not exist.

But these strategies have dangers because at some point people are going to ask you why you are ignoring the facts. They will repeat Moynihan’s statement that you are entitled to your own opinions but not to your own set of facts and they will say that if you are going to do history you have to deal with all the facts, not just some of them. One strategy to get around this is by suggesting that not all pieces of information are really “facts.”

What are “the facts” anyway? Some people who do history intentionally stack the deck by deciding that some information is factual and other information is not. For example, they may claim that oral history is not reliable but that information written down or printed is likely to be very reliable. So, if you find an oral history with someone who recalled, years after coming to Minnesota in 1853: “We carved our tub from the trunk of a red oak tree and when we were done we filled it with water from the spring behind the barn, in which we bathed after thanking the Lord for our bounty,” you might question its accuracy, especially if there were no discussion of bathtubs or bathing in issues of the St. Paul Democrat or St. Paul Pioneer from the 1850s. And to prove your point you might add that this description says that the people “bathed” but that it was an ambiguous statement suggesting that the people bathed in the tub, the spring, or even the barn and that if they bathed in the barn they may have been bathing the animals and not themselves. You could even point out that the tub in question was homemade and therefore not really a bathtub in the proper sense of the word. Who’s to say, you would ask, whether or not this particular settler was an odd duck who happened to like bathing in water, unlike the vast majority of his fellow settlers?

The success of any one of these strategies depends in part upon your status and the status of the person or persons who presents the contrary evidence. If you are working for a well-known agency or institution and the person offering evidence to the contrary happens to a blogger of uncertain reputation then it is likely that you are not going to be asked any hard questions about your theory that “there were no bathtubs in early Minnesota.” Newspaper reporters or editors in particular are not going to want to give attention to information supplied through websites. In fact it is likely that you will not get questions at all on the issue of bathtubs in early Minnesota because, someone might say, who really cares one way or another about this antiquarian issue? What difference does it make whether settlers bathed or had bathtubs anyway? This is a helpful attitude, because it it is always better for well-known institutions if their employees do not have to answer for any mistakes they may have made.

But the blogger who maintains that there were really bathtubs in early Minnesota might be a persistent person. He or she might keep posting stories like “Why is the well-known institution lying about bathtubs?” or “The truth about bathing that the well-known institution has chosen to ignore.” After a few of these stories, people, even newspapers, might start to ask you hard questions. You will try to simply ignore the blogger and other disgruntled people but it will start to make you feel really testy. It will be harder and harder not to respond. Even when people send you emails to ask you simple unrelated questions you might end up itching to throw in a few odd thoughts about bathtubs to defend yourself, at the end of the email such as: “You may be seeing a lot of untrue or unreliable information about bathtubs on the web. Let me know if you have any questions.”

That’s when you know know that the obligation of the historian to deal with the facts, all the facts, is really getting to you, in spite of your plan to stack the deck in favor of your own theory.  One of these nights you are going to wake up screaming: “Yes, I know there were bathtubs in Red Wing and Chatfield! Leave me alone!” Your family is going to wonder about you, but it is a good start. As Fran Lebowitz, Harvey Fierstein, or Harry Carey once said, “Denial is not just a pool of water in Egypt.”


By George Spears

Fire represents power, strength, life, and sustainability. First Nation people have used this life source in their ceremonies as a way of connecting us to the creator. Our ancestors gathered around fires and discussed many important issues that effected their tribe, community, and family. This connection to fire still remains for the First Nation people of Turtle Island. First Nations United would like to invite you to participate in FIRE TALKS! This is a bi-weekly intertribal gathering to develop a dialog about reclaiming the sacred site known as “Coldwater Spring.” Bring your ideas, history, and knowledge of this sacred site. We all share a common bond as First Nation people to the land of our ancestors, and to the future generation. Let this bond unite us to reclaim this scared site for the Dakota Nation.

Location/Logistics: Coldwater Spring is south of Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis. From Hwy 55/Hiawatha, turn east (toward the Mississippi River) at 54th Street, take an immediate right (south) & follow the frontage road for a half mile past the pay parking meters, through the fence gates, & past the aqua brick building where you can park. This gathering is outside so please dress appropriate for the elements. A fire will be provided and some refreshments.

When: 1st & 3rd Sunday of every month starting February 7th 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Contact: George spears Chi-Noodin (612) 269 -5083

Gary Spears Migizi (952) 974-3257

How to do historical research

My mother, who was a tenacious historian, used to ask, when she was involved in some particularly difficult historical research: “If I were that piece of paper where would I be?” She practiced a kind of method-historical research, in which she thought about the process through which the information might have been written, collected, and stored in order to determine where the information might have ended up. As a result she found documents that no one else could find, and tracked down answers to questions that other people thought could not be answered.

Many people think that all it takes to researching and writing about a historical topic is to go into a library or archives and find the books and folders of information that are labeled conveniently with the topic of your research. So, for example, if you want to study the use of bathtubs in early Minnesota or somewhere you just go into the library and say: “Show me everything you have on bathtubs,” and the librarian will be able to pull out a folder, or a few books that give you everything you need on the topic.

Most of the time that is not how it works. Most of the information is not collected for you in advance. You have to have think about who might have been interested in writing down the information you want or collecting it later. Perhaps there are a few published reminiscences in which someone wrote about using a bathtub in Minnesota in 1849.  Letters or diaries written by some of the first settlers may mention taking baths in bathtubs. Some 19th century county histories might mention bathtubs, too.

But one thing you have to keep in mind is that there may be mentions of bathtubs in early sources, but there is no guarantee that someone who indexed a book or inventoried a collection of manuscripts thought that bathtubs were something important enough to put in the index or inventory. If someone did write about bathtubs in an early county history, the words bath or tub or bathing, might still not be present in the index to the book. The whole idea of bathing might have seemed so mundane, compared to the more important topics of the first schools, the first churches, and the “first white child” born in a small town, that the publisher of the book would simply have left it out of the index, even though it was referred to in passing in the book.

This is why when I see that someone is planning a “literature search” on a particular historical topic, I am skeptical. Doing a comprehensive survey of all the available published and unpublished sources on a particular topic is certainly important. But it is only the basic first step in any kind of historical research. Even with the increasing amount of published texts available online with full text-search capability, there remain a lot of books and manuscripts that are not online and that are imperfectly cataloged or indexed. In the 1980s when I was writing about the common practice of gift-giving in the fur trade and among Indian people, I found out quickly that the terms “gift” or “present” were seldom indexed. Furthermore, people writing about gift-giving sometimes wrote about it without even using the word gift. You had read through fur-trade journals, account books, and reminiscences page-by-page to find the information that was there but not listed in the indexes.

Historical research on any topic requires a thorough knowledge of the available sources and the ability to make sense of the information you find in them. Someone who states that he or she has done a comprehensive literature search may simply have skimmed the surface, without seeing the most important or significant information buried below.