Oȟéyawahe/Pilot Knob Gets National Historic Designation

View from Oȟéyawahe/Pilot Knob today. No wonder it was targeted for development. (Photo: National Park Service)

Good news: Oȟéyawahe, or Pilot Knob Hill, a sacred Dakota burial site, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 14 by the National Park Service.

The site is in Mendota Heights on the east bank of the Mississippi River across from Fort Snelling. To white settlers, it was called Pilot Knob, an important landmark for riverboat navigation. The Dakota name for it means “The hill that is much visited.” It was “a burial place, and an important Medicine or Wakan Ceremony grounds,” according to the historic designation application filed by the Pilot Knob Preservation Association.

[Update: The hill has a magnificent view of Fort Snelling and both downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. It is a great place to watch a sunset. In 2002, developers announced plans to build “The Bluffs,” high density housing on the hill. The late Bob Brown, then head of the Mendota Mdewakonton Dakota Community, first began alerting people to the threat. He reached out to the veterans of the Coldwater Spring protests to work in defense of the hill. Opposition eventually coalesced in the formation of the Pilot Knob Preservation Association.]

In 2003, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota called Pilot Knob one of the 10 most endangered historic places in the state. As will be described below, the housing development never happened.

It’s worth remembering that the Dakota people are the state’s original inhabitants. Other than areas connected to the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862, the state has few places on the Historic Register that focus on the Dakota people and their culture, the application said. Exceptions are Maka Yusota (Boiling Springs) in Shakopee (2003), and Indian Mounds Park in St. Paul (2014). More typical are sacred sites destroyed by settler developments. “Taku Wakan Tipi or Morgan’s Mound is now covered with a Veteran’s Administration Hospital, a major highway, housing, and portions of the Twin Cities airport.”

Here’s what you need to know about Oȟéyawahe, or Pilot Knob, and why preservation is important. Continue reading

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