Groups protest highway reroute

by Megan Boldt

About 50 activists lofted signs saying “America, where is your sacred land?” and “Bury my heart where MnDOT won’t find it” at a Saturday afternoon picnic protest at Minnehaha Park. The protest aimed to stop the reroute of Highway 55.
The proposed transportation corridor on Hiawatha Avenue between 46th Street South and Minnehaha Parkway has received much criticism. Opponents claim the land in the path of the reroute contains sacred Indian burial sites; an archeological survey of the area conducted in spring revealed no historic significance.
Construction still has not started, but is tentatively planned for the end of July or early August. Minnesota Department of Transportation officials could not be reached for comment this weekend.
The afternoon was filled with speakers and entertainers who oppose the reroute. Jim Anderson, cultural chairman of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community, spoke about efforts to preserve the land as traditional cultural property and folk singer Papa John Kolstad performed.
According to the archeological study conducted by MnDOT, no historical evidence was found to indicate the cluster of four bur oak trees in the reroute corridor mark is a Native American burial ground or served as a Native American sacred site.
Also, the trees are too young to have been used for burial or other sacred ceremonies, according to the study, and the area they occupy was a wetland until the turn of the century.
Anderson, along with others, disagreed with the findings of the study. He said the study was not a wholehearted effort.
“The deepest spots of land they dug into to study were only 18 inches deep. How can anyone be certain that there is no remains with that little effort?” he commented.
Anderson also added that they should have taken into account what has occurred in the past.
“Native Americans have used much of the area around us long ago for burial sites,” he said. “Remains were tilled up by farmers in the area long ago. Also, grave robbers took a lot of the precious artifacts from the burial sites.”
Robert Brown, chairman of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community, said that the area around the trees was not a wetland.
“They are not listening to us and relying on crude maps by cartographers from the past,” he said.
Groups other than Native Americans gathered to protest the reroute, including some community members.
Ken Bradley, member of Stop the Reroute Coalition, said he feels the community had no input in the reroute decision.
“Not a single person who opposed the light rail were chosen to participate in the citizen committee,” Bradley said. “The government does not want to listen to the opposition.”
He added that he isn’t sure he wants to live there once the construction is done.
“My children won’t be as safe playing in the park as they used to be,” he said.
Activist Susu Jeffrey, member of the Stop the Reroute Coalition, said there will be more legal action and appeals from Green Cities Inc. and possibly other organizations.
“What MnDOT doesn’t understand is it’s not about the trees, it’s about the land,” Jeffrey said.
Summing up the feelings of opponents at the protest, activist Mary White said in her speech, “We’ll keep throwing darts and eventually something will stick.”