“I am pleased to reach an agreement with the Department of Interior to protect the Camp Coldwater Spring and restore the Bureau of Mines property to open green space,” Congressman Martin Sabo stated three years ago. Now, however, the National Park Service wants to sell most of Coldwater Park’s 27 acres, according to the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The Park Service repeatedly admits that “transfer” of the land has “adverse” consequences for protection of historical and cultural properties, nevertheless it plans to sell off most of the park.
The 10,000-year-old spring on the Mississippi blufftop between Minnehaha and Fort Snelling parks was found not to qualify as a Native American sacred site in the EIS, despite paperwork passed by the federally recognized Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma (3/19/01). Indigenous Americans are descendants of an oral culture, making a paper trail problematic.
So far, the only qualifying “government or university entity” that can afford Coldwater Park is law enforcement, supported by the Homeland Security honeypot. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) System would like a police training campus. The Minneapolis Police Department would like a single-site evidence storage and laboratory facility.
The NPS decision is just the latest outrage committed by the federal government against the rights of Indigenous Peoples and their sacred places.
At Coldwater in 1820, 200 U.S. troops moved in and mined limestone out of the Mississippi bluff to build Fort Snelling. In the 1830s the army began forcibly removing pioneers and Indians from the area to protect their firewood and wild game supplies and to try to separate Indian people from the growing number of settlers.
The 1862 Dakota Uprising resulted in the slaughter of 664 whites—Indian deaths were not counted, much like Iraqi deaths today. Thirty-eight Dakota men were hanged, followed by mass imprisonment, deportation out to “Indian country,” and a bounty on any Indian remaining in the state.
“The Knights of Blue Earth County,” by Jack El-Hai, describes “a secret fraternity of Minnesotans” who sought to rid the state of Indians, a homegrown anti-Indian Klan (see this month’s Minnesota Monthly www.mnmo.com).
At what point in Dakota survival would there have been the opportunity to establish a continuous sacred practice at a U.S. army post? Coldwater furnished water to the fort from 1820 to 1920. From 1890 to 1978 it was illegal for Native Americans to practice their religions. Coldwater was a fenced, Cold War metallurgy and mining research facility from 1949-1996.
Two years ago, 55 remains were removed from an Indian mound above the Minnesota River by the LRT Station at 34th Avenue South and Old Shakopee Road where a parking lot with condos now stands. The remains were found to be 2,000 years old, about the time a man named Jesus is said to have lived.
“The Bible itself is a result of oral history,” Eddie Benton Benais told state officials in court ordered testimony (3/99), “yet we hold it to be sacred. Our history is valid. It is time for us to share our story.
“My grandfather, as a small boy traveled by foot, by horse, by canoe to this great place to where there would be these great religious, spiritual events. And they always camped between the falls and the sacred water place,” said Benais, an Anishinabe spiritual elder from northern Wisconsin.
“We know that the falls which came to be known as Minnehaha Falls, was a sacred place, was a neutral place, a place for many nations to come. And that (to) further geographically define (it), the confluence of the rivers. That point was a neutral place. And that somewhere between that point and the falls there were sacred grounds that were mutually held to be a sacred place. And that the spring from which the sacred water should be drawn was not very far.” Coldwater Spring is halfway between Minnehaha Falls and the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers.
The assumption that churches, synagogues, mosques and temples are sacred is unquestioned. Believers buy land, erect buildings and create a ritual to sanctify the space. Indian peoples found land already sanctified.
Non-Indians have also found the landscape around Coldwater Spring to be a sacred place. Group or personal rituals occur frequently at the site. Coldwater appears on the Spiritual Map of the Twin Cities, from the University of Minnesota’s Design Institute Knowledge Maps series, in company with the Basilica of St. Mary, the Cathedral of St. Paul and a dozen other houses of worship, two Indian cemeteries, Mounds Park and Pilot Knob, and various gardens, woods, paths and water falls. “In nature we find the spring from which all spiritual traditions grow,” note the Knowledge Map-makers (http://design.umn.edu).
Every religion has water rituals, literally from birth to death. Symbolic ablutions are practiced to prepare for worship, to “wash away” sins, sadness, sickness, the past, to renew the spirit.
At Coldwater 100,000 gallons a day of pristine groundwater pours out of limestone bedrock, singing and splashing 125-feet down the Mississippi bluff. Freedom of religion implies freedom to practice that religion. It’s a right not limited by race or a definition of religion.