Dakota people: Coldwater Spring is sacred area


Dakota people exercised their treaty rights “to pass and repass” last Friday by entering the local Coldwater Spring area without permits. A permit for one hour a week is the new requirement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to discourage visitors to the sacred spring.

A 25-car traffic jam at the Coldwater entrance off Hiawatha/Hwy 55 frustrated the armed Homeland Security guard, who called his superiors. Inspector J. Roth was chauffeured to the spring to find Jim Anderson, cultural chairman of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community, offering a copy of the 1805 Dakota-Pike Treaty.

“All we want to do is get water and go,” said Anderson.

“That’s all you want to do?” the inspector asked, sounding surprised.

Everybody got in, Indian and non-Indian, without a paper permit and government-issued photo I.D. It was a precedent. “I’m not getting any permit to be on my land anymore,” Anderson said.

Vernon Foster, southwest director of the American Indian Movement, noted that the Federal Protective Service is a government subcontractor, just following orders. “They’re not on our level,” Foster said, referring to sovereign treaty rights.
“We are going to change things,” said Mendota Dakota community member Sharon Lennartson. “This is the time for change.”

Since 1996, Coldwater (the former Bureau of Mines campus on the Mississippi bluff) has been open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The 27-acre campus contains 11 buildings, abandoned for nine years except for three warehouses.
On Aug. 5, no trespassing signs were posted and the site was closed except for Friday afternoon during rush hour, from 3 to 4 p.m. A month later, signs warning “Do Not Drink This Water” announced the danger of coliform “bacteria that are naturally present in the environment and are used as an indicator that other potentially-harmful bacteria may be present.”

“Best tasting contaminated water I’ve ever had,” quipped Brian Eggenberg of Prior Lake. The Eggenbergs drink water from Coldwater Spring because their well water is too iron-rich. They’ve tried artesian water, reverse osmosis and so-called spring water in plastic bottles from stores. They prefer Coldwater’s taste and enjoy sharing their Mendota Dakota heritage with their 7- and 12-year-old sons.

“This is not just water, this is medicine,” Anderson told the 45 people circled up for a traditional pipe ceremony.

Dakota people and friends were commemorating, “not celebrating,” the 200th anniversary of the Pike Treaty by gill net fishing off Pike Island and returning to Mni Owe Sni (literally, water-spring-cold) for sacred water and ceremony.

Coldwater, about a mile south of Minnehaha Falls (flowing at 100,000 gallons per day), is the last spring of size in the Twin Cities.

Two hundred years ago, 26-year-old Lt. Zebulon Pike pushed up the Mississippi with 60 gallons of liquor and $200 in gifts to “treat” with the Dakota. In two days Pike concluded a treaty for U.S. military posts along nine miles on either side of the Mississippi, from the confluence of the Mississippi and the Minnesota, upriver past the falls now called St. Anthony. In the treaty, the Dakota retained the rights to “pass, repass, hunt or make other uses of the said districts, as they have formerly done … ”

“We know that the falls which came to be known as Minnehaha Falls, was a sacred place, a neutral place, a place for many nations to come….And that the spring from which the sacred water should be drawn was not very far…a spring that all nations used to draw the sacred water for the ceremony,” Anishinabeg spiritual elder Eddie Benton Benais told Minnesota officials during court ordered testimony in March of 1999.

Benais called the mile and a half between Minnehaha Falls and Coldwater Spring “sacred grounds that were mutually held to be a sacred place” by Upper Mississippi tribes who regularly gathered there including Dakota, Anishinabeg, Ho Chunk, Iowa and Sauk and Fox nations.