Today’s history lesson is on the Minnesota Gold Rush of 1866.
Never heard of it? That’s because 1) It fizzled, and 2) It’s a history we don’t tell because it reflects so poorly on our colonial past. While now but a historical footnote, the Minnesota Gold Rush did incredible harm to the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) people living in northeastern Minnesota.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified Henry Sibley as one of the treaty negotiators. It also failed to correctly distinguish between the Treaty of 1854 and the Treaty of 1855. Those errors have been corrected.
History offers several examples of white settlers’ greed for gold and how it led to violence, disease, land theft, and genocide of Indigenous peoples, the California and Black Hills gold rushes being prime examples.
Less well know is that it happened in Minnesota, too. It started in 1848, when surveyors found a copper vein in the Arrowhead region of the Minnesota Territory, on Lake Superior’s north shore, the Why Treaties Matter website said. In the 1860s, the Minnesota State Geologist identified gold just west of the Arrowhead region.
Mining interests wanted in. They pressured the federal government to force treaties with the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) people to get access to their land and minerals.
What the Anishinaabe saw as sacred, the colonists saw as profit.
The 19th century gold rushes from California to the Black Hills had devastating effects on Native peoples, and history could be repeating itself.
According to a story in the Lakota Country Times: “Mineral Mountain Resources, of Vancouver, Canada, is seeking approval to conduct exploratory gold mining throughout the central Black Hills.” Investors are hoping to find “Homestake 2,” a reference to South Dakota’s famous Homestake Mine, “the largest and deepest goldmine in North America,” according to Wikipedia.
According to the Lakota Country Times:
That the especially sacred Lakota site of Pe` Sla – within the already sacred Black Hills – is also marked for gold exploration should come as no surprise. Native American land is always treated as disposable, whether for the federal government’s needs or for the monied interests that control it.
Pe` Sla is deeply tied to the Lakota creation story and is the site of annual ceremonies. Native nations have worked together to try to save this site, considered the center of the universe by the Lakota. According to a 2012 story in Indian Country Today: “In a historic banding together, the Great Sioux Nation, or Oceti Sakowin was able raise the $9 million needed to purchase” Pe` Sla.
It took another five years to get the land protected under federal land trust status, according to a March 24, 2017 story by KOTA TV. It reported: “now that the fight to keep the tract permanently in the hands of Native Americans for cultural and religious use is won, the tribes can focus on restoring the property.”
Still, the proposed mining could threaten Pe` Sla. The site getting scrutiny for gold mining is near the former gold mining town of Rochford, which also is near Pe` Sla. The sacred site could be affected by downstream pollution.