More videos of the February 2009 Coldwater/ Bureau of Mines open house

Here are two more videos of the Coldwater/Bureau of Mines open house on February 23, 2009

A very short video of Ernie Peters, the brother of Sheldon Peters Wolfchild, speaking of giving the National Park Service a second chance to make the right decision about the Coldwater Spring site.

We will give you another chance. We know your hearts are good, and your minds. You’re doing what you’ve been programmed to by your education. We are programmed by the creator.

Unfortunately, we haven’t found a longer video with all of the things he said.

In this video Waziyatawin is speaking further about the return of the Coldwater property to the Dakota. She finishes with the statement directed at the employees of the Park Service and others who were present:

How important is this site to you? Are you willing to have Dakota blood spilled? Are you willing to initiate a new era of violence against Dakota people? Because of Dakota people . . . We’re not going to give up this land. It’s time for reclamation. Thank you all for listening. Pidamaye.

A plea from the Little Feather Indian Center at Pipestone

I just received this email from Chuck Derby of the Little Feather Indian Center at Pipestone, Minnesota, a place devoted to educating people about the Pipestone quarry, the use of pipestone for making pipes, and the proper use of pipes in ceremonies. The is the introduction from the center’s website:

Hau Koda, welcome to the Little Feather Center, we are located in Pipestone, Minnesota, the home of the genuine stone that our sacred Pipestone Pipes are made from. The Center is Dakota owned and operated and the site is full of information on the Dakota culture and other Native American issues. If you continue through this site you will, I hope, learn much about the Pipestone Pipes and the authentic Catlinite stone that they are created from. By the time you leave you should be able to tell the difference between the genuine stone from Pipestone and the look-alike red stone from Jasper, and also know about the various styles of pipes, the sacred pipestone quarries, quarrying and the history of Pipestone. You may also have signed a petition or two!

Below is the message I received today from Chuck Derby:

Hello everyone,

These economic hard times have affected many people with loss of jobs, housing and economic stability. The high price of gas for automobiles last year reduced the number of visitors to this area. It has affected the Little Feather Indian Center as well. We have not been able to keep up with the taxes on the Center and our ceremonial/powwow grounds. If we cannot pay the taxes we will be losing all that we have strived to perpetuate for many years. The loss of the Center where our museum, dedicated to Native American Women, the Sacred Pipe and the true history of this Sacred area will be gone. We did not put a price tag on all that we have done for the people Indian/non-Indian, other than a small amount to compensate for the labor in the quarrying and pipemaking.

We have been trying to help the people for the last 15 years to learn about the true Sacredness of this area and the Sacred Pipe. We honor and respect all religious beliefs and try to do what we can to assist those who choose the Sacred Red Road. Native American culture and especially the Sacred Pipestone area has been my life for many, many years. That will be gone. Gone too will be the pipemaking from the Center, that has been ongoing for the 15 years that we have been at the Center.

The ceremonial/powwow grounds is the site location where many of our ancestors camped while at the Pipestone quarries. The teachings from elders, spiritual leaders, medicine-men and research, have determined that this is the ancient campgrounds. This site has been used by Native people for over 4,000 years and petroglyphs found at the sacred ceremonial site now called the Three Maidens date back at least 4,000 years. Many pieces of worked pipestone have been found on this camp site and they have been worked with stone tools, indicating usage prior to metal tools and white contact. The pipestone specimens were found in a wide spread area, so this rules out that it was a dump site. We found partial pipes and stone that looks like ancient ancestors were in the process of making a pipe.

Along with the recession, I have, as many of you know, been ill and had to have surgery, I have diabetes also and so the medical costs did nothing to help our situation. Gloria is stuck in England right now with no money to return until she sells her Mother’s house, which is today’s market seems impossible. I am on a fixed pension which is just enough to live on and basically keep the Center going, except for the taxes. I have tried to get a job but with the illness and my age (68) I am no longer viable in the workforce. I am at my wit’s end right now.

We need $5,500 in total, and we have asked a Minnesota tribe who have a casino for help in this but haven’t heard back from them. We need the cash by mid April and time is creeping on and we are all starting to really worry. If this cannot be done we will have to take down all of our displays and move them to our homes for safe keeping, we cannot allow those things to be sold and lost as many of them are historical items about the local Dakota people and the area.

So as much as I hate to do it, I am putting out a plea to anyone who wishes to help us keep the Center. Please could you manage to throw a few dollars together and donate it to us, anything will be used to pay the taxes off. We are not a 501c3 never had the money or ability to do all of that, besides we preferred not to have big brother keeping an eye on what we did, we liked to be able to give someone the money for a pair of shoes, or for their gas cost to a funeral, or just some cash to survive. We didn’t keep a record of those things we just did them, so there is no tax deductable donations, they will just be love donations.

Please email me if you are able to help us. Or please send anything you are able to:
PO Box 334, Pipestone, MN 56164

I am thankful for your assistance in this, and you will be in our prayers.

Miukuye Oyasin,

Chuck, along with Alice & Gloria
on behalf of the Little Feather Center

Learning from the Mendota Dakota

Someday the fact of there being two classes of Dakota people in Minnesota, the very, very rich and all the others, may finally be addressed. But, even if the income inequality among Dakota is not remedied, the conclusions drawn by many non-Indians about who is Dakota and who is not based on wealth and other arbitrary factors must be discussed. Those who draw such conclusions should at least acknowledge the process through which the inequalities came about and respect those who were not in the right place at the right time. 

Among those who exemplify the inequalities among the Minnesota Dakota are the members of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community. The Mendota Dakota are a non-federally recognized community consisting of a number of families of Dakota descent, mostly from the town of Mendota, which is a small town in the midst of the metropolis, across the mouth of the Minnesota River from Fort Snelling. 

Many of them are descended from Angelique Renville, who was a member of Little Crow’s Kaposia band of Dakota prior to 1862 and was Little Crow’s cousin. Angelique Renville married Hypolite Dupuis, who was the bookkeeper for Henry H. Sibley. Because of this connection, Angelique Renville, along with other of her relatives, was not exiled from Minnesota with the other Dakota when they were sent on steamboats from Fort Snelling in the spring of 1863. The missionary John P. Williamson wrote in May 1863 that when he accompanied the Dakota who left Fort Snelling on May 5, about 200 Dakota were left behind, some of whom became scouts and soldiers working with Sibley. He added: “Among those we left behind at Fort Snelling were all the Renvilles including the Widow, Paul, Simon, Kawanke, and all the Campbells.”

Daughters, sons, and later descendants of Dupuis and Renville married into other families, often French or Dakota or even Ojibwe mixed blood and most continued to live at Mendota into the 20th century. They also had relatives on the Santee Reservation in Nebraska and there were reports of visiting back and forth. And when Dakota families moved back to Minnesota over the decades, the Mendota Dakota were there to greet them and offer them a place to stay. 

When a Special Inspector of the Department of Interior, James McLaughlin, was assigned in 1899 to do a census of the Mdewakanton Dakotas in Minnesota, he noted that there was some difficulty in determining which Dakota were Mdewakantons and which were other groups, because of intermarriage and other factors. Some who resided in one place opposed the enrollment of those in other places. McLaughlin took special note of Angelique Renville and her family, stating that there was no question that she was Mdewakanton, having been part of the band from birth. “I was well acquainted with said Angelique Dupuis (Nee Renville) for several years prior to her death [in 1890] and knew all of her family, hence my making this statement to show the absurdity of the protests of the Indians to the enrollment of her descendants as Medwakantons.” (McLaughlin’s census roll is available online.

My introduction to the Mendota Dakota came about during the struggle over Highway 55, when the Minnesota Department of Transportation and other agencies pushed through the construction of the highway with very little environmental or historical or cultural review. The Mendota Dakota were among the groups who put their bodies on the line to try to stop or mitigate the construction. Some of the story of what happened, along with some Mendota history is found in Mary Losure’s book Our Way or the Highway. The protests of 1998 to 2000 seemed to have very little effect on the route of the highway but various groups including the Mendota Dakota were able to get through the state capitol in St. Paul a law protecting Coldwater Spring.

 The leader of the community at that time was Bob Brown, a descendant of Angelique Renville through the extended Leclaire family. Like many he was tied to Mendota but had lived in other parts of the Twin Cities because that’s where the jobs were. Bob’s grandfather Albert Leclaire had grown up in Mendota. His grandmother Lillian Felix—one of whose nieces married Amos Crooks at Prior Lake—had attended Carlisle Indian School. In the 1920s and 1930s Albert Leclaire and family members, including Bob’s uncle Russell Leclaire, lived and farmed at  Prior Lake on a land assignment from the Department of Interior—on the 1886 Mdewakanton Sioux lands that would later become the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. His land certificate certified that he was a member of the May 20, 1886 Mdewakantons. Albert Leclaire died as a result of injuries sustained in an automobile accident on the reservation in 1942. Refused treatment at local Shakopeee hospital he was transported all the way to the agency in Pipestone where he died after a few weeks. 

The five children of Albert and Lillian Leclaire.

The five children of Albert and Lillian Leclaire, including Raymond, Selisha (the mother of Bob Brown), Russell (in the center), Margaret, and Albert.

Russell Leclaire recalled that over the years after his father’s death he was on good terms with the children of Amos Crooks who were first cousins once removed. Russell used to go back on visits to Prior Lake. At one point Norman Crooks said to him that he ought to move back because they were going to start a bingo hall and things might get better on the reservation. Russell later said that he did not want to give up the life he had built in the cities and that there were too many bad memories of living there as a child. It should also be mentioned that one reason Russell Leclaire and his father had never became members of the Prior Lake community when they lived there in the 1930s was that the federal government did not allow the community to be organized under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act until 1969. 

Later on when the Prior Lake Sioux, now calling themselves the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, began to have more success, Bob Brown and some of the other people at Mendota sought membership in the community but, like many they were turned away. In effect membership there was like a game of musical chairs. If you were sitting there when the music stopped playing you were a member. Otherwise, forget it. There are many other odd anomalies resulting from the delay in the organization at Prior Lake. For example the Amos Crooks family, including Norman Crooks, were living in Long Beach, California for a good part of the 1930s and had the Prior Lake community been organized then, they would not have been members of it. 

The Mendota families tried again and again at Shakopee. Finally someone in the offices there said sarcastically, “Why don’t you form your own community?” This is what they did. Of course the Mendota Dakota were already a close-knit community, people who stayed together, went to church together, celebrated together, people who might go away from Mendota to look for jobs and opportunity, but who always came back. So forming their own community simply meant creating a formal organization, a 501 (c) (3). 

At this point the Mendota Dakota began to look into getting federal recognition, without knowing exactly how difficult this would be. They began doing extensive genealogy and historical research, amassing a great deal of supporting information. But getting federal recognition for an Indian community is an impossibly difficult and cumbersome process that a few experts in the field say requires at least a million dollars to start with. This is to pay for the research, the lawyers, the genealogists, to gather and present information about a community to meet a set of arbitrary standards that a few recognized groups would be unable to meet today if they had to prove their legitimacy.

The late 1990s were a frustrating time for the Mendota Dakota, because the more they worked the farther away the goal seemed to get. But then Bob Brown and the other Mendota Dakota decided that they would focus on being the people that they wanted the federal government to recognize them as being: a Dakota community that cared about the cultural heritage of being Dakota. Bob, his sisters Bev and Linda, his dynamic wife Linda, and other many other members of the Mendota Dakota began to take responsibility for the cultural heritage of Bdote, the sacred area around the mouth of the Minnesota River. It was an important time to get active because of all the development pressures on the Bdote area that few other groups seemed to be fighting.

The Highway 55 struggle and the protection of Coldwater Spring were part of it. But even though the highway was built, there were other jobs to do. When word got out that a development was proposed for Pilot Knob, known to the Dakota as Oheyawahi, the Mendota Dakota drew together a coalition of people, supporters or preservation, environmentalists, and Highway 55 opponents, and historians and anthropologists like Alan Woolworth and me. They set out to educate people, engaging in the political process as various proposals made their way through the Mendota Heights City Council. In the end, through the help of public and private funding, the city was able to obtain title to the development land, preserving it as public open space.

This was a long arduous process, with many people contributing on the way. The Mendota Dakota did not do it all, but they inspired many others to make it happen. A year ago, I heard Mayor of Mendota Heights John Huber say that his own conviction that Pilot Knob should be saved from development was inspired by a speech given by Michael Scott, who succeeded his uncle Bob Brown as chairman of the community after Bob’s death in 2003. At a public meeting in St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Mendota, Michael spoke eloquently about the necessity of protecting Dakota burial places. Over the years Michael’s cousin Jim Anderson has often worked to help coalesce the force necessary to continue the Mendota Dakota legacy of looking after Bdote. Curt LeClaire, who is now the chair, and Bob’s sister Sharon Lennartson, and many others carry on to do fulfill the community’s role at Bdote.

Over the years the Mendota Dakota have quarreled internally. They have had missteps along the way. They have been ignored and sometimes ostracized by government agencies in shameful ways, including by the Minnesota Historical Society. But they have kept on going. Several years ago I went to a meeting at the office of the Mendota Dakota on how to mobilize and educate people on the issue of the Treaty of 1805 and the rights the Dakota signers reserved in it for their people. I can imagine few other places on Indian reservations or in universities where I could have gone to discuss the treaty in as much detail as we did that day in Mendota.

A Dakota woman from another reservation was there to give advice. There was a discussion of how to present the issue to the public, to make people understand that it was a binding obligation of the U.S. government and still had meaning today. Someone made a suggestion, I’m not sure exactly what it was. The woman responded “No don’t say that. Just say: ‘I’m just a person who is trying to do the right thing.’”

It was a beautiful thing to say, especially because that is the way the Mendota Dakota have been as long as I’ve known them. The greatest lesson I have learned from the Mendota Dakota is that one should never wait for approval or validation from others before setting out to do something important. Instead, be who you are or want to be, regardless of what others say about you.

Someday, perhaps, the disparities between Dakota groups in Minnesota will be addressed. Perhaps the Mendota Dakota will benefit. In the meantime I keep remembering what Henry David Thoreau said: “If a man advances confidently in the direction of his dreams to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Coldwater comment threads

A lot of the interesting discussions going on these days about what should happen to the Coldwater/Bureau of Mines property are taking place in widely-distributed, semi-public emails. To insure that the discussion gets wider airing and to make sure that it gets into the record, we are going to be putting some of these discussion threads online. The following discussion took place about the online petition asking that the property be returned to the Dakota people:

We the undersigned demand the transfer of the former Bureau of Mines properties, including the historic Coldwater Spring, to Dakota communities.

We also demand an environmental restoration of the site by the Federal government before the transfer to Dakota communities. As the Federal government via the Bureau of Mines is responsible for the current state of the land surrounding the spring, it is their responsibility to restore the site to its original, pristine condition at Federal expense. 

A clean-up and restoration of the site is needed. However, a full restoration of the site means the restoration of Dakota rights and title to the land. Coldwater Spring must be returned to the people of the Dakota Nation, who are the rightful care takers and protectors of that land.

What follows is a discussion of the advisability of signing the petition. It is not clear if the first and second writers intended the emails to be public, so we are not including those people’s real names.

Email from Jane Doe to David Jones, prior to March 12, 2009

Others may want to read the history of the preservation efforts of Coldwater Springs  on-line before they sign on to the petition [supporting transfer of the Bureau of Mines property to the Dakota]. This spring is sacred to many more tribes than the Dakota Bands. It was  a place, very similar to the early history of the Pipestone Quarry, where all nations held it sacred. The earliest artifacts from Coldwater are from almost 9,000 years ago. If anyone wants to read about other preservation efforts go to, and then they can decide whether they want to sign the petition. Thanks for the opportunity for growth in our understanding. Jane Doe

Email from David Jones to Waziyatawin and Chris Mato Nunpa, March 12, 2009

Greetings, I’m passing along another viewpoint of  [organization] member Jane Doe re: the sacred site of Coldwater Springs. . . . The arena of Peace and Justice lives with many diverging viewpoints nonetheless, it’s intertwined roots that share deep connections.  Thank you both Chris and Jane for raising this issue.  David Jones [member of the organization]

Email of Chris Mato Nunpa to David Jones, March 13, 2009

Hi David,

Two things that I think everybody, including Jane Doe, should know about the stuggle for Coldwater Spring:

1.)  The Bdewakantunwan (“Dwellers By Mystic Lake”) origin story places the site of Dakota genesis at Bdote, confluence, junction, mouth, etc. or “Where One Stream Joins Another.”  In this case, it refers to where the Minnesota River meets the Mississippi River.  This is regarded as Maka Cokaya Kin, “the Center of the Earth.”  This site marks the origin of the Dakota People, from the very beginning, whenever that might be. 

Our origin story, for those of us who subscribe to the genesis story, is similar to those who (most of the Christians who are U.S. Euro-Americans) say they believe the Jewish origin story involving Adam & Eve, and the Garden of Eden, wherever that may be located.  In other words, it just as SACRED to us as their Adam & Eve story is to them.

2.)  The Treaty of 1805 was the first treaty (of several) made between the Dakota Oyate (People or Nation) and the U.S.  This involved and involves 155,000+ acres on which most of St. Paul and much of Minneapolis set.  For whatever reason, the U.S. recognized the Dakota as the carekeepers/protectors (or owners) of this land, which includes many sacred sites, including Coldwater Spring, and thus, made a treaty with the Dakota People.  So, by the U.S.’s own law, a treaty which is the “Supreme Law of the Land,” according to article 6 of their sacred document (the U.S. Constitution), the land, including Coldwater Spring, belongs to the Dakota Nation.Another fact, we, the Dakota People, have not been paid for this land.

One more thing I wish to say –  I am somewhat tired of those U.S. Euro-Americans, who read books written by white men, who listen to white men, who received their education from white men, etc. making pronouncements about not only Dakota matters but also about Indigenous Peoples, in general, and then make these pronouncements and assertions about Dakota and/or Indigenous matters without consulting or talking/meeting with Dakota/Indigenous Peoples.  Jane Doe is an example, in my perspective, of a U.S. Euro-American exercising  her “white privilege”, which I call “white supremacy”.  She makes statements/assertions which demean, disparage, and diminish Dakota/Indigenous concerns and struggles.  Jane Doe, a colonizer representative, like most of the wasicu whom I have encountered, in my 68 “winters’ on Ina Maka, or “Mother Earth,” and in my 35 years in white academia, think they know better about Dakota/Indigenous subjects than do the Dakota.  It is arrogance!

David, I am forwarding what I am writing to others (e.g. Jim Anderson, who is our leader, to Dr. Waziyata Win, another activist in the struggle, et. al.) who are involved in the struggle to get Coldwater Spring returned to the Dakota People so that they can identify those U.S. Euro-Americans who are allies and those who are enemies. Thank you, Chris Mato Nunpa, Ph.D. Dakota, Wahpetunwan (“Dwellers In the Leaves”), Pezihuta Zizi Otunwe, “Yellow Medicine Community” (In BIA terms, the Upper Sioux Community) near Granite Falls, MN

Email of Waziyatawin to David Jones and others, March 13, 2009

[Note: although the email is addressed to David Jones it addresses comments not by David Jones, but by Jane Doe.]

Dear David, 

Coldwater Spring was successfully protected and cared for by Dakota people for thousands of years (we certainly don’t need you to tell us about “artifacts” from 9,000 years ago. While a variety of Indigenous Peoples may hold the site as sacred (both in historic and contemporary times), Dakota people are the only people who can claim the site, along with the entire Bdote area, as our place of genesis.  This is a profound relationship that is deeper, apparently, than you are capable of imagining.

If you deny Dakota primacy to the site, under the guise of equal rights or equal access, you have declared yourself just another colonizer.  Indigenous Peoples have seen the likes of you many times before.  In fact, the equal rights/equal access argument is the same one that has been used in previous eras in struggles over fishing rights.  When our Anishinaabe relatives were asserting their fishing rights in Wisconsin and Minnesota in recent decades, for example, the same white racists calling for equality and protection of the lands, waters, and fish, were also espousing hate speech such as “Save a walleye, kill an Indian.”  Your rhetoric is nothing new and we recognize it for what it is.  It is another colonizer attempt to maintain colonial control over an Indigenous sacred site.

Colonizers should not have equal claim or equal access to that site.  It is a characteristic of white privilege (and an American colonizer identity) to believe that you are entitled to anything you want.  It is settler society (of which you are part) that has already devastated that land base.  You have no moral positioning to lay claim to a Dakota sacred spring.  Indigenous Peoples possess the only moral claims to Indigenous sites, and among Indigenous Peoples at this particular site, there is no question that Dakota people should be given primacy to care for our ancient spring once again.

Please pass this message along to other colonialist thinkers belonging to your organization.


Email of Chris Mato Nunpa to Waziyatawin and others, March 13, 2009

Micunksi (My Daughter),

Wicoie waste ehe, ake.  “You have spoken good words, again.”

Way to go, Daughter!

Niyate (“Your Father”)


Videos from the Coldwater/ Bureau of Mines open house, February 23, 2009

Here are some videos of the National Park Service open house about the Bureau of Mines property taken at the event on February 23, 2009, from 5 to 9 PM. The event started a 30-day comment period about changes to property around Coldwater Spring, as discussed here before. Early on at this event, Waziyatawin and her supporters hung banners around the room at the VA Medical Center near Fort Snelling. Although as planned by the National Park Service the event was not supposed to have any public speakers, shortly after 6:00 PM that evening, Waziyatawin stood on a chair and began speaking of the importance of giving the property back to the Dakota people. Following her a number of other speakers addressed the crowd, some standing on the chair, others simply standing near the wall. Not all of the speakers were recorded or recorded completely, as far as we know. Also, there were some speakers whose names we did not get. What follows are links to five videos on YouTube. If we find more videos we will put links on here later. The videos here vary in quality although on my computer the sound is ok, so you can hear most of what was said. If you click on the images below you can watch the videos without leaving this site. Otherwise you can watch them at YouTube.

Part 1: Waziyatawin and her daughter Wicanhpi Iyotan Win or Autumn speaking at the Bureau of Mines Open House about Coldwater Spring, February 23, 2009

Parts 2-4: The speech given by Sheldon Peters Wolfchild on the importance of Coldwater Spring and the wider area of Taku Wakan Tipi to Mdewakanton Dakota and to the Lower Sioux Indian Community. It is divided into three parts.

Part 5: Scott DeMuth speaking of the return of the 27 acres of land at the Bureau of Mines to the Dakota people.

Mdewakanton Dakotas in Minnesota and the Wolfchild case

On March 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., issued a decision (available here in pdf form) in the Wolfchild lawsuit concerning the lands purchased by the federal government for the benefit of the Mdewakanton Dakota who were living in Minnesota on May 20, 1886. If I understand the decision correctly (and I may have to revise this later), the court ruled in favor of the case made by the present-day federal government that the lands bought for those Mdewakanton and specified as being for the benefit of their lineal descendants, were not held in trust for them, and that therefore the lineal descendants have no claim on the federal government. Further, the court appears to be saying that regardless of any claim any lineal descendant might have had to the land once, Congress took away these rights when it turned the land over to the organized Dakota communities in a law passed in 1980. To these people the court basically says: Tough, get over it.

Even though this decision does not necessarily mean the end of this lawsuit or any others that may be brought on the issue, the decision will be good news for some and it will be bad news for many others. I suspect that the only entity that it will be completely good news for is the federal government, which has thrived since 1862 and earlier on the divisions among the Dakota people.

Were the Wolfchild case to come to an end today it would not magically unify the Mdewakanton Dakotas and other Dakotas in Minnesota. Like many people around Minnesota I first heard of the decision from a Indian-issues listerv, in an email from a Dakota person who sent out an Adobe Acrobat file with the court’s decision and appeared to communicate his feelings about it by ending the message: “Anpetu Waste Yuhapipo, You All Have a Good Day!!” Knowing a little about this person, I had a pretty good idea about what the decision was before I even looked at it. To get another take on what it meant, I looked at the Mohrman Kaardal law firm website, where Erick Kaardal, the chief attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, wrote: “The Federal Circuit issued an opinion today holding that the government won.  Plaintiffs lost. Counsel for Wolfchild plaintiffs are reviewing appeal options.”

I am not sure how this is all going to be reported in the media. (Here’s one early report.)  One thing that I doubt will get reported very well is the relationship of this decision to the complicated history of the Mdewakanton Dakotas in Minnesota since 1862. There is very little understanding out there about why the Mdewakanton Dakotas and other Dakotas in Minnesota are the divided community they are today. To a large extent this is directly the result of actions taken by the federal goverment at every step along the way. One might even think that the federal government likes it that way and wants it to continue.

As it happens just before I received the email about the court decision I was looking for a copy of a  letter that I had found once in a research collection, a letter that really shows the role that the federal government has played in encouraging Dakota disunity. After searching through piles and piles of paper I found it. It from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington to Minnesota Congressman Al Quie, dated April 19, 1961. Quie had earlier sent the commissioner a letter from a woman at Prairie Island complaining about conditions there. In response the commissioner gave the congressman a summary of a key moment in Mdewakanton Dakota history, when the federal government implemented the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) in the mid-1930s, through which it encouraged bands and reservations to create business-like self-government:

In October of 1935 a constitution for the Mdewakanton Sioux was submitted which proposed a single organization of all the Mdewakanton Sioux communities. However it was subsequently decided by the Solicitor for the Department of Interior that these Indians had under the land purchase acts abandoned tribal relations and therefore were not privileged to organize as a tribe over various reservations. Their only basis of organization was as Indians residing on a reservation. 

The decision in favor of a separate organization was agreeable to the Indians, particularly in view of the fact that they had originally begun organization in just such a manner. It was at a mass meeting of the Indians from all of these commnities that a single organization had been decided upon quite spontaneously. However, when the legal and practical difficulties of such an organization became apparent, each group willingly returned to its original plan. It was decided that an annual conference of the Mdewakanton Sioux Indians on matters of common interest would satisfy the commendable desire of these Indians to unite on such matters.

In other words, the Dakota started out wanting to organize as separate communities then when all the communities met together they decided to unify as a people, but then the federal government told them they could not do that, so they decided to make the best of things and organize separately. Given the fact that the IRA was supposed to be about self-government, why did the federal government tell them they could not organize as a single people? At the very same time the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe was re-organizing as a single tribe (except for Red Lake). In the case of the Ojibwe, the individual reservations were subsequently granted charters from the MCT. But in the case of the Dakota, they were only allowed to organize as individual separate communities, which they did. The last community to organize was Shakopee in 1969.

To understand why the federal government forced this decision you have to look at the history of the way the IRA was implemented around the country. And that could go on for pages.  One way or another, the Dakota are who they are today, a number of separate communities with different land bases (all based originally on those land purchases in starting in the 1880s), different membership policies, different casinos–each casino with a different level of income from its customer base–all of the communities jealous of their own interests and wary of working together. Not to mention the issues involving all the unenrolled Dakota who have not been allowed to be members of these communities.

These are the Dakota that the Department of Interior thinks about when it says that it cannot give the Coldwater-Bureau of Mines property to the Dakota. Federal officials ask: If we gave the land to the Dakota which Dakota would we give it to? Who are the Dakota? The answer is that the Dakota are the fractionalized people that the federal government made. Given that the fractionalized nature of the Dakota is due in large part to the actions of the federal government, you would think that the government bears a special obligation when working with the Dakota to find better ways of involving all of them in their processes. In the case of Coldwater Spring, this would suggest the need for special efforts at mediation to arrive at a way for the Dakota to work together. But of course, that could only begin if the Department of Interior and the Park Service finally acknowledged that Coldwater Spring is an important place for Dakota people.

Could the Dakota people work together to protect a place like Coldwater Spring under their joint management? It is a question worth thinking about.

More on this later.

The National Park Service can find no Dakota name for the place the Dakota call Mni Sni (Coldwater Spring)

According to the National Park Service, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), in St. Paul, there is no Dakota name for the place the Dakota call Mni Sni or Mni Owe Sni. This is one of many things the National Park Service does not know about Coldwater Spring, or at least does not know that it knows it or would like everyone to believe that it does not know it. As stated below, since the Department of Interior has decided that the Bureau of Mines (BOM) property should not go to any Dakota band, but should remain in federal hands, one has to wonder whether or not ignoring the Dakota name for Coldwater Spring was not a kind of cooking of the books to reach a pre-determined result.

The Dakota name of Coldwater Spring was one of a number of things the Park Service was informed about in 2006, through a number of comments submitted to the Park Service about the draft EIS released in August of that year. The Park Service promised after the end of the comment period to place all these comments in digital form on the internet, but that never happened, reportedly because some higher-ups somewhere decided that it was unwise for the individual members of the public to know what other people knew. You had to be on a need to know basis about what was known and what was not known. If you went into the MNRRA office they would let you know that you could look at the comments that had been submitted and even make copies of them, but unless you knew that you wouldn’t be able to find it out so you would never know. 

I submitted about 30 pages of comments myself, trying to correct some mistakes and fill in some gaps in what the Park Service knew about Coldwater. One of the documents I submitted was an affidavit which I had written in the court case when Chris Mato Nunpa, Jim Anderson, and Susu Jeffrey were fined for trying to enter the Bureau of Mines site without a permit, at a time when a permit was required. Mato Nunpa and Anderson, who are both Dakota, had  held up the Treaty of 1805 pointing to its pass-and-repass provision which reserved rights to the Dakota on the Fort Snelling military reservation created by the treaty. My affidavit, which I am putting online for the first time goes into many of the historical issues about the meaning of Coldwater Spring for the Dakota and for other groups like the Ojibwe. 

An engraving based on a painting by George Catlin of an Ojibwe camp at Coldwater Spring, in 1835. That year, as in previous years, 500 Ojibwe came to the site to trade, dance, and meet ceremonially with their hosts, the Dakota.

An engraving based on a painting by George Catlin of an Ojibwe camp at Coldwater Spring, in 1835. That year, as in previous years, 500 Ojibwe came to the site to trade, dance, and meet ceremonially with their hosts, the Dakota.

Also in 2006 I submitted another statement about the “The Cultural and Historical Importance of Coldwater Spring and Surrounding Area,”  which went into the various questions raised by the research the Park Service had assembled for the EIS and responded to some of the statements made in these documents and in the odd  conclusions the Park Service had drawn from them. Among other things I wrote about the question of a name for Coldwater Spring. Here’s what I said:

A major point in the TCP analysis is the assertion that Coldwater Spring does not have a Dakota name and that therefore the traditional cultural importance of the spring for the Dakota is suspect:

If the spring were so important, why doesn’t it have a specific name, like other Dakota sites in the area do?  Granted, the Dakota could have adopted the name Coldwater for the spring name, or Coldwater Spring could have been their original name for it, but we have no evidence of this.

In fact it should be noted that there is at least in recent years a Dakota name for Coldwater Spring, Mni Sni, which does in fact mean roughly “cold water.” It is recorded on a map of Dakota cultural sites issued by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and the 106 Group, and is included in the Ethnographic Study (Figure 10).

Were they informed of this fact, Park Service officials might suggest that the name is too recently published to provide evidence of the traditional cultural importance of the spring to the Dakota. But this argument presumes that if a Dakota name for Coldwater Spring was not recorded by non-Indians early enough in non-Indian history, that a name did not exist.

Either way, however, the example of Boiling Springs or Maka Yusota is instructive. The name Maka Yusota can be translated roughly as “roiling earth.” The nomination of the site for the National Register [written by Scott Anfinson, now State Archaeologist who was then with the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office] contains written documentation for the Dakota name of this site going back only to 1982, a fact which was not fatal to the nomination of the site to the Register.

Further, Park Service officials appear to assume that having a name for something is a key cultural fact among the Dakota. No cultural evidence is presented on this point, which suggests that the objection is based not on cultural evidence at all but rather on the ethnocentric idea that having a name for a place is a key fact among all peoples.

Finally a key point that must be made is that the fact that other cultural evidence about Coldwater—apparently ignored by Park Service officials—shows that the spring derives some of its significance from being part of or connected to a larger area, specifically the place called Taku Wakan Tipi, the dwelling place of Taku Wakan, also known as Unktehi, or more precisely, a particular Unktehi. This point is discussed in detail in the attached Affidavit.

There is a lot more in the two documents that I submitted to the Park Service in 2006, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. The more research that is done on Coldwater and the surrounding area, the more we will know about the importance of the spring for the Dakota people.

One more thing: At some point someone is going to mention the fact that, in 2001, after working with Dean Lindberg, Bob Mosedale, and Dave Fudally to put together an exhibit on the history of Coldwater which appeared in Senator Paul Wellstone’s office and later Fort Snelling State Park, I submitted a proposal to the Park Service to do the historical research on the Bureau of Mine property that would eventually become part of the EIS. My proposal involved working with a team of researchers including former Minnesota Historical Society director Russell Fridley to do a thorough study of the Native and non-Native history of the Bureau of Mines property. The Park Service chose a proposal from someone else who offered to do the job a lot cheaper. In my opinion the Park Service got what it paid for. Granted historians, like everyone else, make mistakes and no one is perfect, but the historical report seems like something that many graduate students could have done over a long weekend. Later on when I pointed this out to one Park Service employee he said that it didn’t really matter. As I put it in my comments on the EIS (in which I showed my sour grapes about not getting the contract to do the research by giving the Park Service a lot of information for free):

Why the Park Service did not hold the author of the Historical Study to the same standards of evidence it apparently feels that the authors of the Ethnographic Study [the report on the TCP status of Coldwater that was rejected by the Park Service] did not meet, is unclear. During the course of the DEIS comment period I had occasion to pose this question to a MNRRA official who stated to me: “Yes, it is not a good report, but the question is: If it were any better would it make any difference?” The question suggests other questions: How does one know what difference adequate information will make until one has that information? Since when, in cultural resource studies, is one required to know in advance what one is going to find prior to doing any research? What excuses should be made for a historical study that does not make use of key information available in public archives and libraries?

Ultimately, when confronted with an agency that assembles historical documentation that is inadequate, the question is whether or not the agency was really concerned about getting adequate information in the first place. Since the Department of Interior has since decided that the BOM property should not go to any Dakota tribe, but should remain in federal hands, one has to wonder whether or not the rejection earlier of any finding about the importance of the site to the Dakota was not a kind of cooking of the books to reach a pre-determined result. People will have to read their documents and my documents and other people’s documents and make up their own minds.

Where is Carol Bly, now that we need her?–Minnesota in its 150th year of denial

“Minnesota–150 Years of Denial.” That was my motto proposal for Minnesota’s statehood centennial which began in May 2008. All through this year I’ve been thinking of Carol Bly. She died in December 2007, but if there was ever a time that needed her spirited involvement it was the year of Minnesota’s sesquicentennial—the uproar, the arguments, the anachronistic nostalgia, the covered wagons, and the Lincoln impersonators teaching children how to make stovepipe hats. All of this could have used her skills at making people who disagree sit down and talk.

In the 1970s Carol Bly wrote a series of essays in the magazine of Minnesota Public Radio—first called Preview, then Minnesota Monthly—under the title that was later given to her book Letters from the Country. These letters explored the difficulties of sorting out questions of public culture and interpersonal communication in small towns and in the country. Carol Bly had a reforming spirit. She was not from the area of southwestern Minnesota where she and her husband the poet Robert Bly lived. Born in Duluth, she was educated at Wellesley, had lived in the east, and had gone to graduate school at the University of Minnesota before arriving in Madison, Minnesota.

A page from one of Carol Bly's letters

A page from one of Carol Bly's letters as originally published in Minnesota Monthly magazine in August 1977.

Carol Bly always reminded me of the fictional Carol Kennicott in Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, an outsider who took life in small towns seriously and wanted to make things better. Personally, when I was younger, I did not care for Carol Bly’s writing. But I was not a real Minnesotan and had never lived in a small town for very long so I did not really understand her work. My mother lived in a small town then and she had a grudge against Carol Bly, which was odd because they were two peas in a pod when it came to speaking up when speaking up was necessary. It is only recently that I have begun to see the profound value in Bly’s forthrightness (and in my mother’s for that matter).

Carol Bly’s letters were begun during the Vietnam War and were continued in its aftermath. Bly was insistent that even people in small towns should confront the nature of the what was going on in the world then, not back away from it. Bly had an unerring sense for spotting hypocrisy and the little evasions of everyday conversation. In this her work is the converse of Howard Mohr’s. What Mohr saw as humorous in how Minnesotans talked, Bly saw as tragic denial.

Bly’s letters are a Babette’s Feast of humanizing strategies for making people become better human beings, better listeners, better talkers, better sayers and doers of hard things. Of course, there is no question that Bly drove a lot of people crazy whether they lived near her or simply read her essays. She admitted in the new preface to the 1999 edition of her book that the first third of the letters were “a little cross,” with an edgy tone, and that the later essays were “directive and even more opinionated,” even though at the end she said she felt more sure of her subject “informally analyzing rural life and trying to figure out ways to live both more seriously and more happily than seemed to be the general custom.” Bly’s work speaks to a larger human condition, about how to confront things and change them. But it also describes the general public culture of this 32d state, this arbitrarily constructed place called Minnesota, the state that is now almost 151 years old.

What makes the Bly’s work even more remarkable is that it was published in Minnesota Monthly, which is now a slick advertising vehicle designed to raise money for public radio. But in those years the magazine was a far cry from what it is now. It had less advertising but it was a far better magazine. It started out as a monthly program guide but gradually turned into a stimulating and ground-breaking journal of opinion and analysis about Minnesota and its culture. One issue from August 1977 that I still have included an essay by Paul Gruchow entitled “Pieces of the Prairie,” illustrated with photographs by Jim Brandenburg, a piece by Bill Holm on “Icelanders, Box Elders, Soybeans and Poets,” along with Carol Bly’s letter from the country on the topic of facing evil. This was a vital magazine that helped to explain Minnesota to Minnesotans. It has left a great legacy, through the work of each of those writers who have now sadly left us and particularly in the work of Carol Bly.

The cover of the August 1977 issue of Minnesota Monthly, an issue containing writing by Carol Bly, Bill Holm, and Paul Gruchow, and photography by Jim Brandenburg

The cover of the August 1977 issue of Minnesota Monthly, an issue containing writing by Carol Bly, Bill Holm, and Paul Gruchow, and photography by Jim Brandenburg

So much of what Bly speaks about in Letters from the Country rings true for public discussions throughout Minnesota, not just in those small towns. There is an evasive quality to the way Minnesotans in general and in particular deal with problems and issues that they share in common. There is an avoidance of conflict and a desire to smooth things over before they’ve gotten out in the open.

In Minnesota when you complain about something that involves society and general but also affects you in particular, you are likely to get the response suggesting that your complaint was motivated by egotism. I think of Carol Bly every time I complain to someone about something I believe to be a public wrong. Often the response is something like: “Why take it personally? It’s not about you.” Often this is said as a consolation but at other times it is intended as crushing retort, as though it answered all objections. What does one have to do to try to change society here in Minnesota, file a class action lawsuit, to prove that you know it is not just about you?

Similarly when things are heating up at public meetings in Minnesota and a few people have gotten angry enough to actually express an opinion, someone is likely to try to look on the bright side of things and say: “Isn’t it nice we have so many opinions represented here?” You want to respond, “Actually, no, it’s not nice, it’s hell, but then that is the price you have to pay for talking about tough topics.”

The key problem in Minnesota is that a lot of times people don’t want to talk with people with whom they disagree. Someone will say something occasionally but often the response will be silence. The difficulty is to keep the conversation going until everyone has had a chance to have their say, air their views, find a few things to agree on, identify the real issues and then try to do something about it. Instead grudges will be formed that become a real obstacle to progress.

Carol Bly’s solution was described in an essay entitled “Enemy Evenings.” She wrote that in Minnesota towns “one sometimes has the feeling of moving among ghosts, because we don’t meet and talk to our local opponents on any question.” According to Bly people didn’t air their differences because it was a “hassle,” and people would get upset. The result, she said, was a dismal loneliness, exercised in hypocrisy. Bly’s solutions was the enemy evening, a phrase inspired by Nixon’s enemies list, where people who disagreed with each other on particular issues would come and present their differences as panels of speakers. The event would be moderated by “a firm master of ceremonies in whom general affection for human beings would be paramount, not a chill manner or a childish desire to get the fur flying.”

Bly wrote that rural Minnesotans needed more “serious occasions” and serious discussion, such as these enemy evenings. Minnesota manners were pleasant and friendly but at a price to individual Minnesotans:

To preserve our low-key manners they have had to bottle up social indignation, psychological curiosity, and intellectual doubt. Their banter and their observations about the weather are carapace developed over decades of inconsequential talk. [Take that Howard Mohr!]

She concluded the essay stating: “I commend frank panel evenings with opponents taking part: let’s try that for a change of air, after years of chill and evasive tact.”

A former non-Minnesotan like myself ought to point out that the phrase enemy evenings betrays a lot about Minnesota culture. It implies that if you disagree with someone here you may soon be classified as an enemy. But Bly’s strategy was to figure out how to make enemies into co-conversationalists. Elsewhere in her letters she proposed further ways of airing disagreements. For thing she noted that one evening was not enough to really cover these kinds of discussions. Overnight conferences were the solution, allowing people to meet casually during breaks, sleep over and meet again the next day, providing an opportunity for those with “out-of-control agendas” to get it out of their systems, and generally to allow people to “concert together,” as Tocqueville had put it, and “have a go at the ‘mutual awakening.’”

Much of Carol Bly’s insights in dealing with differences of opinion here offer lessons for the Minnesota sesquicentennial and its aftermath. There may be some who would condemn the work that Angela Waziyatawin has done over this sesquicentennial year, making use of all the evasions of Minnesota-Nice-speak. Her opposition to the idea of “celebrating” events that were tied to the goal of wiping out Native American communities in Minnesota, may have been viewed as evidence that Waziyatawin is taking things personally and believing it is all about her. Many would prefer to see her go away and stop complaining.

For example, it is interesting to note that the reports I’ve read so far about the open house at the VA Hospital on February 23, have said very little about Waziyatawin’s role at the event. A new article in the Southside Pride, does not mention that, at this open house she got up on a chair and spoke to those assembled at some length, followed by speeches of her supporters and other Dakota people. The response to what she said, it may appear, is silence. (Of course there are some who will point out that has not yet said anything about the event in any detail either. That is a reasonable criticism. Why doesn’t somebody send me an account? I’ve been too busy to write it myself.)

One can certainly disagree with Waziyatawin’s manner of raising the issues that she raises or disagree about the solutions that she is seeking, but one should never make the mistake of believing that these are not serious issues and that after 150 years of silence they not should be ones of continuing discussion. Minnesota’s history matters because it continues to have an effect on people today. The evils of the past as well as the good have helped make Minnesota what it is now. Acknowledging the past is an important step to take.

Carol Bly wrote that it was worthwhile for a community to get together and discuss how we might praise those we admire, even if we disagreed on who to praise and how to praise them. She added: “We could do some condemnations too. I like a fight.” I’m with her there, especially about history. Let’s talk about our history here in Minnesota. Let’s get it all out. No one gets to tell anyone else to shut up. Let’s agree, let’s disagree, let’s agree to disagree and disagree to agree, but let’s keep talking. After 150 years, it’s time to end the denial.

Philosophy prof gets money from Historical Society to play with Legos, proving that history matters

As my friend BJ would say: Stop the madness! According to a story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press today there’s a philosophy professor building models of the Minnesota Capitol and the St. Paul Cathedral out of Legos. It is not surprising that the newspaper puts this story on the front page of its feature section. After all it is always interesting when someone does something out of the ordinary. I would expect a similar story if, say, chimpanzees at the Minnesota Zoo were publishing a daily newspaper. You would expect a full report from the Pioneer Press discussing the chimpanzee view of what it meant to be journalists.

What takes the cake is the report that the Minnesota Historical Society, along with the Cathedral Heritage Foundation, is helping pay for the purchase of more than $1,500-worth of Lego blocks. It is always possible, of course, that the involvement of the Historical Society is minimal. But one dollar spent in support of this project is too much. It seems to me that this philosophy professor should be paying the Historical Society to allow him to even mention its name along with what he is doing. He should have to pay the Society $1,500 for its endorsement. As mentioned before the Historical Society has been selling “History Matters” chocolate bars. It is time the Society endorsed hot dish pans, oven mitts, canoe paddles, fish descalers, and maybe even Lego sets depicting the 1851 Traverse des Sioux Treaty site.

Of course if this philosophy professor shifted to toothpicks I would be in full support of his project. Building things out of toothpicks truly is a lost art, and it involves real skill. In the interview in the Pioneer Press the philosopy professor was asked if what he is doing is art. In response he stated that his Lego models are not art, “they are models of art.” One should add that they are not history or even models of history, that is, unless some frustrated and berserk historian goes over there with his official “History Matters” sledge hammer and smashes the damn things and tosses them in the “dustbin of history,” (metaphorically speaking, of course).

I like talking to a man that likes to talk

I distrust a close-mouthed man. He generally picks the wrong time to talk and says the wrong things. Talking’s something you can’t do judiciously unless you keep in practice, and I’ll tell you right out that I’m a man who likes talking to a man that likes to talk.

A word to the wise should be sufficient.