Coldwater Springs on the opening of Coldwater Springs

The Park Service must leave Coldwater Spring
September 4th, 2012<– by Bruce White –> \

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.

Tags: Bdote: A Public EIS · Reclaiming Mini Sota

Phase one design for Coldwater Springs - NPS

Phase one design for Coldwater Springs - NPS

By ICTMN Staff November 1, 2011

A long neglected sacred site in Minnesota will soon be cleaned up and added to the neighboring National Park Service land.

The 27 acres that sits between Fort Snelling and Minnehaha Park was formerly owned by the U.S. Bureau of Mines, but has not been used by that organization since 1996. In the intervening 15 years, the site has fallen into disrepair, its 11 buildings now grafitti-spattered, their windows smashed and their copper wiring and piping pilfered by scavengers. The plan is to demolish all of them, haul away the debris, and restore the area to pastoral splendor.

Like Fort Snelling and Minnehaha Park, the land to be restored is part of what the Dakota called Bdote Minnesota, or Mdote, the sacred place where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet.

“The tribes said it’s a very important place and that we should respect it and do the right thing by it,” John Anifson, chief of resource management for the Park Service, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Chris Mato Nunpa, retired professor of Indian Affairs at Southwest Minnesota State University, agreed that the Park Service should take action. “We’d like them to clean up that land. They destroyed it, they poisoned it, they contaminated it,” he told the Star Tribune. But he feels that ultimately the land should be in Indian hands, and that Indians may take legal action to try to claim it. “We’d like it back,” he said.

The restoration is designated the “Coldwater Creek Project” by NPS and extensive information is available at According to the website, the first phase is demolition and construction, which will finish by August 31, 2012. A key feature of this phase will be removing the culvert from a creek that flows beneath the land, what the Parks Service calls “daylighting” the creek. Phase two will be restoring the landscape to the area’s typical prairie/oak savanna conditions, and phase three will be the restoration and renovation of the Coldwater spring house and reservoir.

Thanks AGAIN to Pat Nunnally of the River Life Program at the University of Minnesota for permission.


It seems self-evident (but may not be) that we should listen to people who have lived with our rivers the longest in order to learn how we might develop a sustainable relationship with rivers.

Put it another way:  In less than a decade, New Orleans, founded in 1718, will celebrate its tricentennial.  If there is to be thriving urban life on the Mississippi for the next 3 centuries, we must learn from people native to the river.

Recently a spate of news stories have highlighted relations between native people and rivers in the United States.

Sometimes, the relationship is difficult.  As The Native American Times writes, shoreline stabilization on the Tennessee River, at Moccasin Bend, has uncovered previously-unknown archaeological sites.  Moccasin Bend was a very significant settlement, and the discovery of human burials complicates the river stabilization project considerably.  The project is under the direction of the National Park Service’s Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, so federal laws pertaining to human burials at archaeological sites are being followed.

Farther down river, in Louisiana, a site known as Poverty Point, which contains some of the largest “prehistoric” earthworks in North America, has been proposed for possible consideration as a World Heritage Site.  World Heritage Sites, designated by UNESCO, contain qualities of “outstanding universal value.”  There are less than 1,000 World Heritage Sites on the globe; inclusion of Poverty Point would likely spur research and protection interest.

It would be a serious error, though, to conclude the Native presence along rivers is historical only.  Two current projects, both in the Pacific Northwest, illustrate collaborations between Native nations and public agencies in preservation of rivers and the varied life forms that depend on rivers.  The New York Times has two stories on coalition building along the Nisqually River.  Also in Washington, a coalition of tribal governments and federal agencies is examining the aquatic ecology of the Elwha River, prior to the removal of a large dam this fall.

Finally, take a look at the Facebook page of a program called Conversations With the Earth.  This effort to ensure that indigenous voices are heard on planetary issues, such as climate change, is a “must learn.”  River managers on the Upper Mississippi are well advised to listen to native people–they are still here–and collaborate in establishing more sustainability on the Great River.