There are many versions of what happened at the Coldwater Spring/ Bureau of Mines open house on February 23. One of them is the official version which is the one that the National Park Service would like everyone to adopt and which they have spoon fed to a few reporters who may not have gone to the event. This official version is represented in the March 11, 2009 (St. Paul) Villager. This report by Kevin Driscoll says that people were milling about having an “electric” time talking with each other and talking with Park Service representatives, when “a group of activisits dominated the open house to argue that the land should be returned to the American Indians.” The article then goes on to quote liberally from Park Service representatives, but no one else. The who, what, how, or why of the protest is completely ignored.
The basic, obvious, unreported fact about the protests at the open house was that these were Dakota people asking that the lands be given back to the Dakota, from which people permission to build a fort was obtained in the Treaty of 1805. Instead, the article quotes John Anfinson saying that “there was no one particular tribe represented.” This is a complete untruth, although be fair, some in the government do not perceive the existence of Indian people unless they are tribal officials.
If newspapers are dying it one of the reasons is because they no longer serve the interests of the communities in which they operate. This insulting story is a perfect example. It is insulting not just because it ignores the protesters, but because it insults the truth and the right of its readers to know that truth. How does it serve the interests of the community to report only what government agencies have to say, without reference to dissenters? Anyone who has read these pages has a much better idea of what happened at the event than from reading the Villager article.
Certainly there were good discussions going on prior to the speeches by Angela Waziyatawin, Sheldon Wolfchild, and others. And there were people in other groups at the meeting who resented what happened and wanted the small group discussions to continue. There were also a lot of differences of opinion about what should happen to Coldwater Spring. But those discussions continued after the speeches, including an extended conversation between Waziyatawin and Paul Labovitz and Steve Johnson of the National Park Service. This does not accord with the statement of one Park Service quoted as saying : “There was no dialogue. They didn’t want to listen.” The photo above of Waziyatawin listening to Steve Johnson of the Park Service suggests otherwise.
You cannot find a better example of how public dissent is stifled in Minnesota than this article. People sure have a lot of opinions don’t they? How about a discussion of the various opinions represented at meetings like this, taking seriously all points of view, giving them a full airing? Isn’t this what “gathering comment” is all about? In conversation with Park Service representatives prior to the event I urged them to have an actual public meeting where the audience could hear the Park Service representatives speak, then allow the audience to speak back to them. This would allow everyone to hear the opinions of all those who spoke. I was told that an open house was planned because at a public meeting some group or person might dominate. Also one of the officials stated that he did not want to speak at the meeting because “If I go to a meeting and I do all the talking I don’t learn anything.”
In retrospect, the strategy backfired, but at least Park Service officials did a lot of learning that night, although apparently they do not remember much of what they learned.