The Park Service must leave Coldwater Spring

It is time for the National Park Service to leave Coldwater Spring in Hennepin County, Minnesota. The NPS, or its local branch, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), is unfit to manage this sacred and culturally important site which first entered federal hands through the Dakota Treaty of 1805. As reported in the last few days by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, MNRRA has largely completed the removal of the ruined Bureau of Mines buildings that marred the site for many years. Restoration of the landscape is continuing. Now it is time for NPS and MNRRA to leave this property and turn its management over to Dakota people for whom the spring is a sacred site and a place of traditional cultural importance.

Over the past six years the National Park Service has shown that it is completely unfit to be the steward for a site of such importance to Dakota people. Largely through the efforts of MNRRA Historian John Anfinson (as fully documented on this website), backed by his superiors in the Park Service, MNRRA has cut corners, stonewalled, and disrespected the requests of the Dakota people for a fair consideration of its cultural heritage.  In 2006 the MNRRA rejected the finding of a respected consultant which supported Traditional Cultural Property status for Coldwater Spring as a Dakota site.  This and many other aspects of MNRRA’s mismanagement of the traditional cultural status of Coldwater is described in detail in Chapter 5 of our new book  Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota, newly published by Minnesota Historical Society Press. Here, for example is a section on MNRRA’s rejection of TCP status for Coldwater Spring in 2006:

Despite this report and the earlier testimony of Dakota people, NPS staff announced publicly in August 2006 that they would not accept the study’s findings about Coldwater Spring. By that point the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area superintendent had already written to Dakota communities, stating, “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.” The letter concluded by acknowledging that the spring had “significant contemporary cultural importance to many Indian people” and noting that “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 the “contemporary cultural importance” of the site to the Dakota and the significance of the site in Fort Snelling history, protections
would be recommended.

The condescending words suggested that although the federal government rejected the Dakota communities’ claim to the spring as a historical and cultural feature and in the process rejected the history and cultural traditions on which the claim was based, the park service would try to protect the spring because it was 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 was not significant; its white history was.

In the years that followed MNRRA continued to forestall any fair consideration of the TCP status, standing by the self-serving and cursory 2006 finding rejecting the TCP status of Coldwater. Then, as described in Chapter 5 of Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota:

In January 2010, at the end of the environmental review process, the National Park Service announced it would retain ownership of the property for itself, to be used as a public park. The park service issued a press release: “The public’s interest in this site throughout this process illustrates the great significance that the Dakota and so many others attach to this special place . . . We are excited to be the caretakers, and to work with many partners to tell all the stories associated with this place. There are many layers of history associated with this site, from the Dakota to European settlement to 20th century mining technology.” Since the park service had consistently denied any historical or cultural connection of the Dakota to the property, the statement was surprising. Rejecting Dakota traditions and then using them in the agency’s historical interpretation appeared to add insult to injury.

Such statements also illustrated the hypocrisy of the Park Service’s entire environmental review process and the emptiness of its consultation with Dakota governments. Even today MNRRA continues to claim that it has consulted adequately with Dakota tribal governments and Dakota people. It lists the many letters it has written to various Dakota tribal groups. Unfortunately MNRRA can provide no comparable record of actual conversations that it has had with Dakota leaders or Dakota people or any case where it actually listened or learned from Dakota people. Consultation through one-sided correspondence is no consultation at all.

Clearly, from the beginning MNRRA had one goal only for Coldwater, to make itself the manager of a park. But MNRRA has shown through its cultural biases that it is unfit to manage a culturally significant and sacred place like Coldwater. The agency has finished its work of removing the ruins of the Bureau of Mines. Now it is time for MNRRA to leave.


The Park Service must leave Coldwater Spring — 10 Comments

  1. In 1999-2000 when the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District began monitoring the volume of water out of Coldwater reservoir, the number was 130,000 gallons per day.

    The MnDOT reroute of Hwy 55 and the 55/62 interchange lost 32,500 gallons per day according to MnDOT monitoring.

    Today the National Park Service (NPS) measures less than 70,000 gallons per day out of the Coldwater Spring House. Some groundwater has been diverted into a secondary creeklet southeast of the reservoir but 28,000 gallons a day? Where are the numbers? And can we believe the crude bucket-and-stopwatch “science” done by a series of different technicians?

    Clearly tree loss with the NPS clearcut and evaporation account for some of the water loss, but dewatering tile and landscape fabric also re-arranged the water flow around the spring. With every “improvement” Coldwater loses.

    This is a disaster. Coldwater is the last major natural spring in Hennepin County.
    Furthermore NPS has announced a plan to cap or seal the Coldwater Spring House so that traditional sacred (and safe to drink) water collected directly from the bedrock would be impossible.

    One Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community Council member noted that closing access to the spring closes off the pathway of UnK’teHi, Dakota deity of the waters and underworld.

    –Susu Jeffrey, Friends of Coldwater

    • Thanks Susu for those comments. My understanding is that the programmatic agreement that the Park Service and other parties signed two years ago covers removal of the buildings and restoration of vegetation. Anything involving change to the outlet of the spring from the ground is not covered and must be the subject of another agreement. So if the Park Service plans to do that, it will have a battle on its hands.

  2. Please let me know if I can help spread awareness or in any other capacity. Cold Springs is a place where I go to clear my thoughts and be one with Creator. The area holds a very dear part of my heart and I will do my best to save it. Miigwetch

  3. Once the National Park Service began managing the area, they started measuring the flow from Coldwater Spring itself- for the first time EVER…

    Prior to NPS management, the only measuring of flow that occurred was AFTER water flowed through the culvert outlet under the road.

    That culvert, which was at the former railroad embankment, collected water from Coldwater spring, the surrounding seeps, Bureau of Mines drainage tiling, plus rain water. The railroad embankment acted like a dam, forcing much more than just spring water through the culvert.

    To make matters worse, it wasn’t until December 2002 that MnDOT installed an accurate automatic measuring station that measured the full flow. From 1998 – through 2002 the flow was measured by different technicians, using different 5 gallon buckets by taking 6% of the actual flow for 5 seconds for a measurement, and then using that to calculate the entire 24 hour day’s actual flow.

    Once MnDOT measured the spring for real, they proved that it fluctuates throughout the day, and we started getting accurate numbers. But it was still after water flowed through the culvert.

    The NPS removed the railroad embankment, the culvert, and day-lighted the stream. They also restored the spring flow to a duel outlet as shown in the Seth Eastman Map of 1857. This is as it was prior to the Waterworks construction of the 1880’s.

    To compare current flow numbers to the previous ones, you must now take the Coldwater spring flow, and add in the secondary spring outlet flow, to get anything resembling what was measured previously. If you do that, you will find it does add up.

    The outlet of the liner under the Hwy 55/62 interchange is not leaking (I looked just last Saturday)…however remember the Bureau of Mines drain tile has also been removed. The natural break of the limestone cap in the area is just a couple hundred feet south of Coldwater Spring too. Go there, and you will see the cattails, and other wetland plants and you will see the water, not in a stream, but COMPLETELY soaking into the ground through the sandstone underneath. This is the source water of the spring in the cave. One of several other springs that everyone completely ignores exists, and Susu says doesn’t exist…because it would take away Coldwater being the “last natural spring’. Her continuing lie of the last 12 years and counting.

    What of the spring in the cave…under Taku Wakan Tipi? Or the old underground river under the airport- remember the cave in during the tunnel construction there? What of the spring with the burial mounds around it? What of the spring feeding the newly restored trout steam? What of the 5 springs flowing to the Minnesota River like the legend says? Or the spring flowing out of Keewaydin field?

    I’m glad to hear more tribes are coming forward with stories, because there are some serious holes in the info… It’s unfair to ignore that even the Dakota elders “couldn’t pinpoint an exact location” in previous testimony, and then beat up the NPS for holding off and saying they need to verify a few things before saying officially they agree.

    Open access to Coldwater for everyone- which by the way has been supported by the Mendota Dakota, Preserve Camp Coldwater Coalition and many many others for many years. What exactly is so bad about the park service doing that? Whatever their official position on the issues, the fact remains, they are keeping it open for everyone. Isn’t that what really matters?

    The Iowa Tribe declared Coldwater spring sacred 5 years before any federally recognized Dakota tribe did. That’s a fact! So who are you proposing to give Coldwater spring to exactly as an alternative? Why that tribe? If it goes to a Dakota tribe, which one? There’s definitely going to be some winners and losers in that plan.

    I’m not saying that Coldwater shouldn’t be transferred to them (as opposed to a park for everyone) at this point. I’m just curious how the plan to return Coldwater “To the Dakota” would work. Especially coming from a PhD Anthropologist who to the best of my knowledge doesn’t exactly have all the tribes agreeing with him.

    I’m not saying they all agree with me- I’m sure they don’t. That’s my point. People don’t agree, so park management for everyone seems to be a good solution.

    It’s real easy to criticize the NPS and MNRRA, and simply say “leave”. It’s quite another thing to come up with a real world workable alternative, that really will solve the problems in a better way.

    • Tom, go ahead and debate Susu about water flow, as you and she have been doing for years. As for your comments on the meaning of Coldwater to the Dakota and other tribes, your ideas are ignorant, stale, and barely warmed over. I would debate with you but first I would have to educate you.

  4. With that big park service truck, guarding the entryway with tree stump logs blocking the road, this looks like they are guarding the sacred water against gathering it. How the heck are disabled people and Elders suppose to gather the water, carry it back to their vehicles after a half mile hike there, then back, carrying water? This is very similar, in many ways to Native children having their braids cut off at the entrance to the mission school classrooms. This is like making them remove their medicine bags and put them in one big pile, to be thrown away and burned later. This is like disallowing them to speak their dirty little Native language, because it had words that could not be found in the English language and meanings they did not understand. This is because they were powerful and magical with their language and culture, and it was a threat to obtaining the land and controlling the Natives. We are being kept away from sacred water and the spirits said to dwell there. They may be talking to Tom about all of the sacred springs he mentioned without him even realizing it, so I could go “really? a spring right across the street at Keewaydin field?” I see a conversation, going all different directions with accusations and some kind of name calling, but without ALL of you, we would not get all of the angles and information, so I would ask for you to all try and be civil to one another and continue the conversation, and gosh, a free education from a Professor of History? That sounds like a bargain 😀 My estimated cost to become a welder, is 21 thou$and. I want to see an honoring at this Mendota Powow of ALL the folks, who had any part whatsoever in preserving that spring, because as it appears now, the park service looks like they think they built it, created it, preserved it, when in fact, it was a governmental agency like itself (MnDot) who wanted to dewater it and fill it in because it was in the way of the 55 reroute. This was thee first conversation i had with Thunder, who had been talking to the highway workers on the job. THAT was the original plan of destruction. We dont always git what we want, but we get some portion of what we want, in a different way, so it would be wrong to stop trying to correct these wrongs, even if we ain’t doin it perfect. When asking the Wakantanka for help, maybe we could try to be way more specific Kinda, be careful what you ask for, you might just get it, but in a different way than you expected :o) Deborah Kaasa

  5. Hi guys 😀 All this bickering makes me homesick for the good ol’ days LOL!! I have not been to see the new Coldwater, but something tells me that I’m going to hate it.

  6. The Elderly and handicapped are not able to go to the springs, no access to the water! It is a 1/2 mile walk, is this legal? Nothing they do seems to be legal, why am I surprised.

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