Minneapolis City Council to Declare Oct. 10, 2016 “Coldwater Springs Protection and Preservation Day”, Pipe Ceremony Planned

Coldwater Springs (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Coldwater Springs (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Minneapolis City Council is expected to pass a resolution this Friday that will declare Oct. 10 Coldwater Springs Protection and Preservation Day. Everyone is invited to attend a pipe ceremony and celebration at Coldwater Springs on Indigenous Peoples Day, Monday, Oct. 10, starting at noon.

The resolution was authored by 12th Ward Councilmember Andrew Johnson, whose south Minneapolis district abuts Coldwater Springs, which is in on unincorporated Hennepin County land. The springs are located just east of the intersection of Hiawatha Avenue and the Crosstown Highway.

Coldwater Springs is near the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers and is sacred to Dakota people, the original people of the area. (The Dakota name for the spring is Mni Owe Sni, which translated means Coldwater Springs.) Camp Coldwater also was the first European-American settlement in the Minnesota Territory; the spring furnished water to Fort Snelling.

The resolution states in part:

That the City of Minneapolis reminds all government agencies to respect the 1805 treaty and honor both the spirit and the letter of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 and the 2001 state law relating to protection and preservation of Coldwater Springs.

Click here for the full text of the Coldwater Springs Resolution.

Those expected to speak on behalf of the resolution at the Minneapolis City Council meeting Friday include: Sheldon Wolfchild of the Lower Sioux Reservation, Sharon Lennartson, chair of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Tribal Community, and Clyde Bellecourt, a founder of the American Indian Movement.

Wolfchild will conduct the pipe ceremony at Coldwater Springs on Monday. Lennartson and Bellecourt are expected to speak, too. Coffee and cookies to follow. Bring family and friends!

For more on the First Amendment and treaty issues surrounding Coldwater Springs, read on.

The Coldwater Springs resolution is not controversial, at least to the Minneapolis City Council. All 13 City Councilmembers have signed on as authors. However, it could raise issues about freedom of religion and treaty interpretation that could conflict with the views held by the National Park Service.

For instance, Dakota people have sought to hold sacred ceremonies at Coldwater Springs. However, because it is on federal property, the National Park Service contends they need a permit to practice their ceremonies (if there are 25 people or more).

Unlike non-Native peoples whose sacred spaces are typically churches, mosques, synagogues and other man-made structures, for Native peoples sacred spaces are special natural settings. Often, these are now in local, state or national park settings which are regulated.

The Minneapolis City Council resolution says that the U.S.-Dakota Treaty of 1805, also called the Pike Treaty, “allows Dakota people to “pass, repass, hunt or make other uses of the said districts, as they have formerly done.” The city resolution asks other levels of government to “respect the 1805 treaty.”

While the Council resolution is not specific in saying Dakota people should be able to hold ceremonies at Coldwater Springs without a permit, its language supporting the Treaty of 1805 implies it. It means that Dakota people should still have access to Coldwater Springs, to pass, repass — and perform their ceremonies — without a federal approval, as the 1805 Treaty provides.

In an interview with Healing Minnesota Stories, John Anfinson, Superintendent of the National River and Recreation Area in Minnesota, said the National Park Service operates with the understanding that the land around Coldwater Springs “was acquired by the United States and it has jurisdiction.”

Anfinson said treaty law is complex and he is no expert. He said the Mendota Treaty of 1851 superseded the 1805 treaty and transferred the land in question to the United States.

The Minneapolis City Council resolution is an important symbolic gesture, but it has no legal authority. As things stand now, Dakota ceremonies at the site require a federal permit.

People can get permits, including what Anfinson called First Amendment permits which do not charge a fee. Wolfchild’s Oct. 10 pipe ceremony is the first First Amendment permit issued since the Coldwater Springs renovation.

Bottom line: The rights the Dakota people have under the Treaty of 1805 is an unresolved question. The courts have never ruled on this issue. What is clear is that both the treaties of 1805 and 1851 were deeply flawed, greatly benefiting settlers and business people and doing great harm to the Dakota people.

A Brief History of the Treaties

Some quick background. The 1805 Treaty was negotiated by Zebulon Pike, and gave the United States its first toe hold in the region, allowing for the construction of what would become Fort Snelling. According the website Why Treaties Matter, only two of seven Dakota leaders signed the treaty. The amount of money the Dakota were to receive in return for the treaty was not specified. While Congress later unilaterally set the amount on its own, the President never approved it, calling the treaty’s validity into question.

The Mendota Treaty of 1851 was a companion treaty to the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, in which the Dakota ceded all of their land in Minnesota and parts of Iowa and South Dakota. It was a treaty highly favorable to fur traders who were deeply in debt, such as Henry Sibley who would go on to become Minnesota’s first governor. Treaty language that was never explained to the Dakota allowed fur traders to skim large amounts of money from treaty payments by claiming debts against individual Dakota.

For more information the Mendota Treaty of 1851, click here.

For additional background on the upcoming events here is a release by Susu Jeffery of the Coldwater Committee titled: Coldwater Pipe Ceremony on Indigenous Peoples Day.

Note: An earlier version of this blog incorrectly identified the location of Coldwater Springs. It abuts the 12th Ward in the City of Minneapolis. The blog has been corrected.

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