A closed mind on Coldwater Spring

The recent statement by John Anfinson, historian with the National Park Service’s Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), that Coldwater Spring was “latched onto” by various groups including American Indians as a sacred place is merely one more example of the Anfinson’s closed mind and biased point of view. He and the agency for which he works, made up their minds a long time ago. Here’s more evidence of that. In 2008 a vehement, non-Indian Coldwater Spring supporter  sent me an email saying:

I am getting quite concerned about the lies being spread about Camp Coldwater in the papers by [name deleted]. Sacred waters, now healing waters. Sacred trees. Its that old saying, when a lie is said often enough, people start to believe it. I know for a fact that [name deleted] asked [name deleted] to lie about 4 sacred trees to stop MNDOT in MHHA park. [Name deleted] keeps making things up as he and his merry little band want the land for a Casino down the road.

I responded noting that the oak trees were a moot point, since they had been cut down eight years before, and that there were no Dakota people who wanted a casino at Coldwater Spring. I said:

What is important is that the spring be preserved and respected . . . . . I am not in a position to tell anyone about the particular power of the water in the spring, but I believe there is plenty of evidence about the importance of the water there for Dakota people, in relation to Mdote, Taku Wakan Tipi, and the wakan wacipi [medicine ceremony]. I am ready to argue that point with anyone who denies it, based on historical and cultural evidence.

The Coldwater Spring supporter forwarded these emails to John Anfinson at MNRRA, who wrote of Park Service plans for the protection of the spring. He added:

I am not going to get into any extended discussion of the sacred character of the spring. I have said what I believe about that already. The bottom line is that it is tremendously important to many people. It will require the best effort to define its restoration, protection and access protocol.

Anfinson was unwilling to discuss the issue of “the sacred character of the spring.” He had made up his mind. And that mind, as indicated in the statement made in September 2010, to the Pioneer Press reporter, was inclined to agree with the non-Indian who objected to Dakota beliefs about the importance of the spring, suggesting that they were manufactured.  Yet MNRRA has pretended to have a open mind about the issue. In recent  “White Paper” written in January 2010 by the staff of MNRRA, the agency stated:

For the Draft EIS, MNRRA’s Cultural Resources Specialist, Dr. John Anfinson, evaluated Coldwater Spring’s eligibility for the National Register as a TCP under 36 CFR part 63 and under National Register Bulletin 38, Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Traditional! Cultural Properties. He found that Coldwater Spring did not meet the National Register criteria or the guidelines of Bulletin 38. MNRRA presented this initial finding in the Draft EIS. The TCP review process under Section 800.4, however, was just beginning. MNRRA’s position stated in the Draft EIS was simply an initial finding and open for discussion.

The final determination on the TCP status was open until MNRRA sent out the final MOA for signature on January 20, 2010. And, MNRRA is still willing to consider the designation.

Despite these last claims, neither the MNRRA nor John Anfinson were willing to consider or discuss the designation of Coldwater as a TCP or as a sacred place after August 2006. Anfinson had made up his mind. Mind, and case, closed.


A closed mind on Coldwater Spring — 4 Comments

  1. Sadly, as with other sacred places in Minneapolis, Coldwater is “out of sight, out of mind” for most white people without a sense of history, and an obstacle to the financial gain of our system. Just west or northwest of what we call Minnehaha Falls, on what the Dakota called the “Little River” according to the Ponds, was a burial ground on a high hill. This has, of course, been overtaken by political and economic events of our past, and because of that lost memory, development has covered it over and it has become lost to all but fragmentary memory.

  2. There is no question that what Mr. John Anfinson said about Coldwater Spring, and the people who find it sacred, is racist in nature for a number of reasons. To begin with, notice that, in the quotation, there are four groupings specifically named: “Wiccans, New Agers, more-traditional religious people, American Indians.”

    These groups are described as “latching onto” a sacred place. This language comes across as disrespectful and demeaning of those groups and peoples. It does not “save the day” to say, in the next sentence: “It is a magnet for all kinds of people looking for spiritual meaning.” Moreover, it ups the ante, and is especially egregious when these words are spoken by someone in a position of authority, someone who has power, including power over many peoples and groups on issues of importance to them.

    Looking more closely at the original quotation from the article, observe that, of the four groups named, one of those groups is based on RACIAL IDENTITY. Since that one racial group was singled out, in a context which implies disrespect, by a person in a position of authority over a matter of great importance to that racial group, this is more than simply an unfortunate choice of words. The statement made by the National Park Service spokesman, as quoted in the Pioneer Press, is, indeed, racist in nature.

    But all is not yet lost. This is a “teachable moment”. This is the opportunity which presents itself for all concerned–both inside the National Park Service, and outside–to examine the damaging nature of Mr. Anfinson’s opinion about Coldwater Spring and the area surrounding it; to assess how widespread this opinion may be within the National Park Service’s rank and file, and chain of command. Moreover, to determine how extensive has been this aspect of racism in the whole DEIS/FEIS/ROD process itself, and to consider the ramifications of this on the perceived, and actual, validity of the process and outcomes to date.

    And then? Then take steps to remedy the situation. Remember, this is an opportunity: Much is at stake, and this is an opportunity for everyone and the Park Service itself to take positive action.

  3. The non-Indian Coldwater Spring supporter wrote: “I am getting quite concerned about the lies being spread about Camp Coldwater in the papers by [name deleted].” Bruce White wrote: “I responded noting that the oak trees were a moot point, since they had been cut down eight years before, and that there were no Dakota people who wanted a casino at Coldwater Spring.” In the context of the non-Indian’s comment, the “oak trees” are not a “moot point”, the “non-Indian” explains how an Indian activist and “his merry little band” – “keep making things up” (lying) about the entire Bdote/Mdote area, including Coldwater Spring and beyond (including where the oak trees use to be).

    I am an Indigenous peoples activist and I have been aware of these Indian activists’ lies and have written extensively about their misleading lies. When the “non-Indian” mentioned the “oak trees” he extended the discussion to include Bdote/Mdote area land beyond Coldwater Spring. If the Coldwater Spring site was given back to the Dakota, these lying Indian activists would be a step closer to gaining more land in the Bdote/Mdote area, where a Casino could then be built and a lot of money could be made off of people with gambling additions problems.

    During a meeting that a leading Bdote/Mdote area Indian activist and I had, the activist told me that he wants land for his people in the Bdote/Mdote area and that he wants a Dakota Indian casino on it.

    • Some people may want land and some people may want casinos and some people may want federal recognition, but the evidence for the importance of Coldwater Spring for the Dakota does not depend on those people. Please go read the report that evaluated Coldwater Spring as a traditional cultural property for Dakota people. Then respond to what it says, rather than what you imagine the arguments for the status of the spring are. The basis for the spring as an place of importance for the Dakota is completely independent of the arguments for or against the four oak trees, which makes the whole issue about the trees a real moot point.

      In any case, no Dakota or group wants or has proposed putting a casino at Coldwater Spring. And if someone wanted to put a casino where the trees were, it would be difficult because that location is now in the middle of Highway 55, just south of 54th Street.

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