Susu Jeffrey | The War Against the Indians and Our Water

The Minnesota historic and archaeological agencies do not review a project until plans are complete, that is, until it is too late.

By Susu Jeffrey  November 3, 2016

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin’s Facebook comments opposing Hennepin County sheriff’s deputies helping North Dakota forces police the Dakota Access Pipeline is very welcome. As McLaughlin notes, “There’s plenty for the Sheriff to do here in Hennepin County.”

For example, the law is very clear about protection of Coldwater Springs.

00 MNI OWE SNI COLDWATER SPRINGSTwo illegal construction projects currently threaten the flow to Coldwater Springs, an acknowledged Dakota sacred site. The Veteran’s Administration is constructing housing close to Hiawatha/Hwy 55 and the Metropolitan Council is planning a new sewer project that intercepts underground fractures that carry an unknown amount of water to Coldwater, the county’s last major natural spring.


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Both the Great Medicine Spring in Theodore Wirth Park and historic Glenwood Spring were permanently dewatered for Interstate 394 in the late 1980s. About 2.5-million gallons per day from the 394-corridor end up piped into the Mississippi mixed with downtown street runoff.

The last time the Metropolitan Council did a project near Coldwater, 1998-2001, the spring lost 46,000 gallons per day to the Hiawatha reroute and light rail. With that 35 percent water loss, Coldwater shrank from 130,000 gal/day to about 84,000 gal/day.

A 2001 state law mandates “Neither the state, nor a unit of metropolitan government, nor a political subdivision of the state may take any action that may diminish the flow of water to or from Camp Coldwater Springs. All projects must be reviewed under the Minnesota Historic Sites Act and the Minnesota Field Archaeology Act with regard to the flow of water to or from Camp Coldwater Springs.”

The federal VA project simply ignored Coldwater protections. Research for the sewer project has been limited to removal of about 2,000 gallons per day from test wells. The Minnesota historic and archaeological agencies do not review a project until plans are complete, that is, until it is too late.

In an October 10th, Indigenous Peoples Day resolution “the City of Minneapolis reminds all government agencies to honor both the spirit and the letter of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 and the 2001 state law relating to the protection and preservation of Coldwater Springs.”

Additionally, the 1805 “Pike” Treaty with the Sioux allows Dakota people to “pass, repass, hunt or make other uses of the said districts, as they have formerly done.” With significant decreases in the quantity and quality of spring water, Dakota people would be prohibited from using the water “as they have formerly done.”

So, Coldwater has the 1805 international treaty between the Dakota oyate (people/nation) and the United States of America; the federal 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act; the Minnesota state 2001 Coldwater protect law; and the October 2016 local Minneapolis resolution to protect and preserve the spring.

Yet Coldwater Springs is not being protected and preserved. It is being monitored and sacrificed to progress, to development, to the cheapest, easiest construction methods.

What Happens to the Water Happens to the People

Alan Muller asks, “What is the complicity of the ‘Minnesota Historical Society’ (which seems to function in many respects as a state agency)” with respect to Coldwater.

The Minnesota Historical Society preserves Minnesota’s past, shares our state’s stories and connects people with history in meaningful ways, according to its website. Coldwater is arguably the most historical site in our state.

Coldwater has been flowing at least 10,000 years according to geohydrologists. In the Mississippi-Minnesota confluence area, what Dakota people call the b’dote, the meeting of waters, a 9,000-year-old bison spear point was found in Mendota. The b’dote is considered to be the Dakota emergence landscape, their Garden of Eden.

Coldwater is the birthplace of the state of Minnesota, site of the first Euro-American settlement in the pre-statehood territory. Coldwater furnished Fort Snelling with water for a century (1820-1920) along with servants, translators, traders, blacksmiths, meat, lumber, wives, midwives, baby-sitters, missionaries and liquor.

Dred Scott drank Coldwater while he was a slave, stationed at the Fort between 1836-40. Scott used his residency in the “free” then-Wisconsin territory as part of his famous case for freedom. Scott lost. He was found to be a slave, therefore not a person, with no right to bring a case into federal court.

The Scott case set up the “separate but equal” U.S. policy that was struck down legally, if not practically, with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. Black Lives Matter is educating Americans about the reality of prejudice but consider that Indian people have the lowest rate of high school graduation and the highest rate, per capita, of assassination by police.

Indian people became U.S. citizens with the 1924 Snyder Act.

Coldwater is a National Historic Landmark. This year the National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized Coldwater Springs as part of the “National Treasure” that is “Bdote Fort Snelling.”

The National Park Service claims to “own” this 10,000-year-old site (since 2011). In establishing its vision, NPS clear cut the 27-acre site and reformed the landscape with tons of dirt fill to create a semi flat prairie atop the Mississippi bluff. Coldwater was big woods country but prairie planting is currently in vogue as the fastest, cheapest way to prettify parkland.

Coldwater currently functions predominately as a dog park. In what meaningful way does the Minnesota Historical Society connect people with Coldwater’s history?

In what meaningful way does it preserve Minnesota’s past by permitting the diminishment of flow time and time again for each new construction project it is mandated to review?

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Susu Jeffrey was one of the citizen intervenors against Enbridge’s Sandpiper fracked oil pipeline across northern Minnesota. We “won.” It was moved to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. Friends of Coldwater supports the efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline and to focus on energy efficiency, the fastest, easiest way to save money and the earth.

The title, “the war against the Indians and our water,” is a quote from Dyna Sluyter writing in Minneapolis Issues Forum, October 27, 2016.


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