Now that the news of John Anfinson’s appointment to the position of superintendent of the Mississippi National River and Recreation area has been confirmed, it is worth reviewing Anfinson’s career and this determined opposition to any claim by Dakota people about the traditional cultural importance of Coldwater Spring, a location now under Anfinson’s management.
By Bruce White MinnesotaHistory.net
Scott Anfinson at left, John, at right, wearing the hat
Introduction from Bruce White’s Facebook page, August 19, 2014
Here is a story first published in June 2010, reviewing Anfinson’s career, his opposition to Dakota assertions about Coldwater and that of his brother Scott who is Minnesota’s State Archaeologist. In light of Anfinson’s advancement in the Park Service it is hard not to see that his beliefs and behavior toward Coldwater Spring have been rewarded by the Park Service, and indeed may have led to that advancement.
Coldwater gatekeepers: A ten-year record of bias and predetermined decision-making about a Dakota place
By Bruce White June 1st, 2010
In September 2006, an article appeared in several Twin Cities business and legal publications by Bill Clements of Dolan Media Newspapers about the role that John Anfinson, a historian, and Scott Anfinson, an archaeologist, had played over the years, in the decision-making of public agencies about the Dakota cultural and historical meaning of Coldwater Spring near Fort Snelling in Hennepin County, Minnesota. Illustrated with a photograph by Bill Clements of the two of them standing in front of the Coldwater/ Bureau of Mines Twin Cities campus main building, the article was headlined: “Brothers in Arms: Scott and John Anfinson have been in activists’ cross hairs for years because of their stand on the controversial Coldwater Spring site.” [Italics added.]
This 2006 article is part of the record providing evidence of a pattern of bias and predetermined decision-making by these key government officials in gathering information and drawing conclusions about Coldwater Spring over the last ten years. The term bias is used here to convey the degree to which these officials reached what appear to be their common conclusions about Coldwater and its Dakota status as long ago as 1999 and have yet to re-examine those conclusions in the face of any evidence presented to them at any time since.
As uncovered recently through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the National Park Service, John Anfinson, historian with the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area was the key official in making decisions about Coldwater Spring. In early 2006 he decided to reject the conclusion of an independent contractor that Coldwater Spring was a place of traditional cultural importance for Dakota people.
What was not revealed in the FOIA information from the Park Service was that Anfinson had already reached his conclusions about Coldwater Spring seven years earlier, before he came to work in MNRRA, when he was a historian with the Army Corps of Engineers in St. Paul. It is not clear whether at that point he had actually done any research on the history or cultural meaning of the spring for the Dakota or anyone else, but he had already developed detailed opinions comparable to those he asserted in 2006.