55 camp raided

Max Rust

The trees have fallen, but the Highway 55 protest movement still stands.
Before dawn Saturday, 150 police officers surrounded Camp Coldwater — the nucleus of one of the longest-running occupation protests in U.S. history — and advanced on the group of protesters. The group’s nemesis followed close behind; Minnesota Department of Transportation construction equipment rolled in with its targets set on four oak trees considered sacred by the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota tribe.
By 5 p.m., the trees were down and 33 activists had been jailed. Protest leaders were assessing their next move to save Coldwater Spring, a natural spring near the four trees site that is also considered sacred to the tribe.
“We know we have to save the spring, and what that entails now I don’t know,” said Jim Anderson, cultural chair of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota community. “Our best chance of saving the water is yet to come.”
According to independent geological consultant Kelton Barr, the spring might be damaged because construction could change the water flow to the spring, disturbing animal and plant life.
But last week, MnDOT spokesman Kent Barnard said there is no way the path of the road can change at this point in the construction process. If the road were to change, he said, the department might have to conduct another environmental study that could jeopardize securing federal funding for the project.
Protesters will be meeting tonight to discuss options for protecting the spring, including legal action. Already several environmental, community and taxpayer groups have filed legal and formal complaints to stop the project.
Anderson did not rule out the possibility of reoccupying the area.
Saturday’s raid went calmly, unlike a similar raid last December when more than 600 police used tear gas and rough arrest tactics to remove protesters from abandoned houses near the Highway 55 protest area.
To ensure the latest raid went smoothly, police met with protest leaders during the past several weeks to discuss arrest procedures.
“We agreed earlier that if there was passive resistance, the pain compliance and the torture wouldn’t be used and it wasn’t,” Anderson said.
MnDOT officials hope to complete the $37 million project by summer 2001, but if a forewarning by tribal elders proves true, construction could be further hindered.
“I’ve been told by our elders that there will be a lot of bad things that happen on this road; building it and after it’s constructed,” Anderson said, noting that he’s not sure exactly what the elders mean. “That’s not a threat, that’s just what I’ve been told by the elders.”

Max Rust welcomes comments at [email protected] and also at (612) 627-4070 x3227.