"Who deems what is sacred?"

A Critique of the Cultural Resource Assessment of
the Proposed Reroute of Highway 55

Joel Wainwright
Department of Geography
University of Minnesota
Morgan Robertson
Department of Geography
University of Wisconsin

Just after 4AM on December 20 [1998], over 600 police officers descended � [T]he raid on the Minnehaha Free State was the largest show of police force in Minnesota history. Seven buildings in the path of the proposed reroute of highway 55 in southeastern Minneapolis had been occupied by activists since August. The raid resulted in 37 arrests and was followed by the fastest demolition job the city has ever seen. All of the houses were completely bulldozed and the foundations were filled in by daybreak.

Aspen, Spiney, and Tumbleweed, 1999


I'm not against protecting sacred lands, but if a piece of land is sacred now, wasn't it sacred thirty years ago when the housing development that will be demolished for the highway was built. Where were all the protesters then? � [T]his particular issue, and others like it, are more a matter of what the popular way to react is, given the sensitivities we have in our culture right now, than they are about protecting sacred lands. We can't declare all lands scared; we can't have somebody raise a fuss every time we want to build somewhere. For practical reasons, the line has to be drawn somewhere. Who deems what is and is not sacred? What's sacred to one is not sacred to another.

Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, 1999

I. Introduction: Popular and Practical Considerations

The controversial expansion of Highway 55 in Minneapolis, Minnesota has produced impressive displays of state power and made even former wrestlers wax philosophical. Since the announcement that a planned trunk highway route would be constructed through a neighborhood and across a oak savanna bluff above the Mississippi River, groups of working class homeowners, environmentalists, and indigenous peoples have opposed the project. This round of opposition to the reroute developed in early 1996, when a group of park conservationists aligned with a local resident whose home would be destroyed by the road expansion. After the state issued condemnation notices in 1998, all but one family sold their houses to the state and moved out; the one remaining couple were joined in June, 1998, by several dozens activists of the Earth First! movement and, on August 10, by leaders from the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota indigenous community, who established a 'Free State' on the grounds around the homes. After the December 20, 1998 raid of the site facilitated the immediate demolition of seven houses, the conflict re-crystallized in a new form. Today, while Earth First! make up the largest contingent of activists guarding the grounds, the claims that mobilize the opposition are fundamentally in terms of indigenous sovereignty.

At the heart of opposition to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) reroute plan today are four bur oak trees that stand in the path of the reroute. Leaders of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota argue that these trees and the land around them are sacred. This claim is usually made in reference to the fact that the bur oaks grow a diamond-shaped pattern, aligned with the cardinal compass points, on a bluff over the Mississippi River, and were planted to serve as funeral scaffolds for the Dakota people (see Photo I: Four Oaks). To counter the claims by indigenous people that the land is sacred, the state has asked � as Ventura indicates � what constitutes sacred land? This is a question that Federal 'Indian' law dictates must be answered in particular ways. After a lawsuit was brought against the MnDOT by a group of Dakota indigenous leaders, a Federal judge found that the MnDOT must conduct a preliminary study of the historical importance of the site. That report, A Cultural Resource Assessment of the Proposed Reroute for Trunk Highway 55 (hereafter CRA) found that "the four bur oak trees � lack historic significance" (59). This crucial finding, which meant that the MnDOT could move forward without delay or full archeological review, was supported by four specific sub-claims:

  1. "The location of the four bur oak trees appears to lack documented association with significant events in Dakota history. � Without information regarding the specific historic association of the four trees with traditional events or a pattern of traditional events, the historic significance of the location cannot be supported" (59);
  2. "No evidence for archeological deposits or human remains have been found within the proposed road corridor. A geomorphic study � identified the area immediately adjacent to the four bur oak trees as a wetland buried by modern fill" (59);
  3. "The landscape position of the four bur oak trees, i.e., their location away from the bluff edge and adjacent to a wetland, is not typical for traditional Dakota cemeteries" (59);
  4. "The four oak trees � may not have existed during the period that Dakota people could have used the area as a burial ground" (59).

I. A. The Road We Take

The re-routing of Highway 55 has been in the planning for over forty years, and has experienced opposition from nearly every kind of social movement imaginable in that time. Those arguing for the re-route have recently co-opted some environmentalist support by including, in the plans, room for bicycle lanes and light rail transit. On the other hand, local environmental and neighborhood groups have rallied support by asking pointed questions about for whom the road is being built. As the main artery between downtown Minneapolis and the airport, the re-routing connects with a larger strategy of attracting extraregional, indeed global, capital to Minneapolis. Many urgent questions have been raised: what are the costs of the reroute to the indigenous peoples, environmentalists, and homeowners? What political economy of urban planning would produce such a strategy? And what compels a state to use 600 police officers to evict a cadre of anarchist squatters?

We have decided not to intervene around these questions in order to focus on a rather narrow line of inquiry. We will contest the four claims, presented with great certitude at the end of the 61 page CRA report, on their own grounds, by closely observing the claims as they are created. These claims rest on scientific data skillfully arranged so as to lead the reader to the inevitable conclusion: the land is not sacred; bring on the bulldozers. In our opinion the most powerful way to contest them is to push at the very weaving of the claims within the scientific method and to pull apart its historical and cultural assumptions. We ask: is the data unequivocal? Can it lead us elsewhere than to the conclusion that the four oaks are not sacred? The report will be approached as a text � one that uses science for certain claims, but is not wholly 'scientific' � to test the strength of its claims concerning the age of the four oak trees (Section II-A), the existence of a wetland on the site in historic times (Section II-B), and the nature of 'traditional' Dakota cultural practices (Section II-C).

I. B. Theoretical Approach: Latour in Colonial Lands

How should one study scientists, such as those from Louis Berger and Associates, who are employed to evaluate indigenous claims of sacredness? Our method is drawn from Latour�s book, Science in Action (1987), in which the author, a leading theorist of 'social studies of science,' describes the rhetorics and cultural practices through which scientific claims are produced. By referring to other texts, stacking stronger data over weaker data, and arranging data to allow only one possible conclusion, claims are moved towards 'truth.' But it is always possible, and in fact necessary within the scientific method, to ask: what is the strength and content of referred texts? How are inferences between strong data and weak data validated? Why are the data arranged in these particular ways? Because scientific claims, once 'done' and released into society, carry great weight, and because contesting them is typically expensive and difficult, Latour demands that we focus on the moments of their production and movement into public discourses, in order to identify the limits and boundaries of scientific rhetoric � and the claims that rest upon it.

In particular, we use Latour to focus on those moments in which a piece of evidence is extended or grouped with other pieces of evidence to support a conclusion. In any scientific endeavor, these moments are contestable; such is the strength of scientific debate. In this case, we carefully examine the moments at which the authors of the CRA report move from the data presented to a conclusion ostensibly supported by that data; in this way we unpack the all-too-visible evidence of both conscious data-arrangement and the evidentiary chasms across which that move has been made. Our fundamental aim is to demonstrate the limitations of the CRA report to indicate possible support for claims of sacredness using the same data.

Our second source of methodological inspiration comes from recent literature in cultural geography that draws upon postcolonial theory, particularly the work of Bruce Braun (1997). Braun uses postcolonial theory to interrogate the politics of nature and indigenous land claims in British Colombia. First, Braun emphasizes that there has not been a radical historical rupture between the 'colonial' and 'postcolonial' periods, particularly where indigenous struggles over land in North America are concerned. In so doing, he shows the importance of paying close attention to the ways "present-day social and cultural practices are marked by histories of colonialism" (ibid., 3). Further, Braun shows that contemporary ways of thinking about 'indigeneity' are often bound up with explicitly colonial discourses:

[C]olonialist cultural practices, and Eurocentrism more generally, remain endemic � These traces are not always immediately visible, nor do they comprise a homogenous, internally consistent, (neo)colonial discourse. Instead, they take the form of 'buried epistemologies' � that have been naturalized as 'common sense' in everyday relations and in social, economic, and political institutions (ibid., 5).

We operationalize this insight through a careful reading of the CRA report, where the author's conclusions rest on ways of framing indigenous culture that reflect such 'buried' colonial epistemologies.

II. From Science to the Sacred: Unpacking The Claims

II. A. Coring Truths

The first array of data we consider concerns the age of the four oaks. To arrive at the conclusion that the "oak trees � may not have existed during the period that Dakota people could have used the area as a burial ground," the CRA report relies on a set of claims, only some of which are supported by an ecological investigation included as an appendix to the report. The conclusion they reach entails the smuggling of nonscientific statements into an ostensibly straightforward scientific discourse about tree age.

The evidence

In his "Report on the aging of bur oaks near Minnehaha Falls, Minneapolis, MN," University of Minnesota forester Gary Johnson reports that he measured the ages of a set of three bur oaks growing "within one mile" of the Longfellow Meeting House at Minnehaha Falls (itself approximately one mile from the site of the four oaks). Through a meticulously-documented procedure, Johnson concludes that the three oaks he has measured are of ages between 125 and 134 years. In the CRA report, this data is used to strongly suggest that the four oak trees are not old enough to have served as sacred sites at the time of the forced eviction of Dakota from the area in 1853 (59). To serve as funeral platforms, the CRA report suggests, the trees would have already have to been 15-25 years old by 1853, necessitating a current age of at least 160 years.

Johnson's report specifies the length of the increment borer used to take tree cores, the length of time the cores were dried prior to examination, and the color of the envelope in which the cores were stored after extraction. It is a model of scientific precision. However, nowhere in the report does he specify how the cored trees were chosen. The importance of the report rests on the presumed similarity between the sampled trees and the four bur oaks in the project area, but this link is not made. The diameter of the four oaks in question is not given; there is no evidence that Johnson even saw them. Furthermore, the spatial extent of Johnson's search area, a one mile radius from the Longfellow House, covers a large region of diverse land coverages, and microclimates in which bur oaks doubtlessly experience a variety of growth rates. The search area only barely includes the site of the four oaks. Yet the CRA report states that "The three trees examined by the University team were selected based on size range similarities to the four oaks situated in the proposed road corridor," (52) a claim flatly absent from Johnson's report. Furthermore, the sampled oaks are said by the CRA report to be in "the immediate area" of the four oaks (59).

The CRA report then goes on to dismiss a study by University of Minnesota Extension tree advisor Jim Nelson (which found that the four trees could be as old as 176 years), on the basis that the second study's methodology is insufficiently described. Nelson had visited the site and was allowed to take measurements on (though not to core) the actual four oak trees; presumably (in the view of the CRA authors) his rapport with the protesters who had invited him to do the study compromised his scientific neutrality � a neutrality vigorously asserted in Johnson's report. Whereas the reader is invited to evaluate the strength of Johnson's report (in an appendix to the CRA report), Nelson's is not made available as an appendix or even cited.

The Interpretation

The evidence that is mobilized to support the claim that the trees are too young begins with a well-documented, straightforward study. Given the methodological problems we have discussed, this is a weak claim; not surprisingly, therefore, the CRA moves to add other layers of evidence to lead the reader to conclude that the oaks are not old enough to have served as part of a sacred site. In Latour's terms, this 'stratifying' must be accomplished in any scientific writing so as to reinforce weak data with strong data, so that any reader's objection to, say, tree age data can be met with a quick response from settler's journal data. In stratifying their account of tree age, the authors move beyond strictly scientific methods and draw on data from historical and geographical sources. Although we will systematically consider the problems with the CRA report's uses of historical-cultural data in Section III, it is worth briefly considering here their use of colonial maps and accounts to obscure the inadequacy of Johnson's scientific report.

In Section II-C of the CRA ("Historic maps and records of previous land use"), detailed maps of timber stands are called forth to testify that the area in question was barren and treeless. These hand-drawn maps, which do not indicate scale, give some indication of roads, vegetation, and occasional topographic features. The general area where the authors believe the four oaks sit is imposed on each of these maps by a circle, usually in an area free of hand-drawn 'tree' icons. This image is plainly intended to convince the reader that a treeless plain existed in the 1950s where the four oaks now sit; for example, Figure 10 points to a circle on an empty area near the bluff as the "Approximate location of Four Oaks" (17; see Map I: Eastman's Map). Similarly, contemporary accounts by colonists are cited as evidence that indigenous ceremonial sites were not found on this location in the 1950s:

Considering the number of non Indians settlers who lived in the vicinity of Camp Coldwater between 1821 and 1840, and the number of individuals who must have passed by this location between 1820 and 1850 to visit the falls at Minnehaha Creek and St. Anthony, it seems very unusual that no one would have commented on the existence of an important Indian cemetery located so near the Fort. The contrast is particularly striking when one considers the extent to which other Dakota cemeteries near the Fort were mapped, described, and even sketched or painted (CRA, 53).

Map I: Eastman's 1957 Map as it Appears in the CRA Report

In other words, since the site is not documented in either maps or accounts, it must not have existed.

After asking us to believe in the colonists' omniscience, the report then requires us to believe that the Dakota history of the area essentially ended in 1853, with the forced relocation of indigenous people away from the area of Minnehaha Falls. This final date is asserted with a vague claim: "Historically, it is unlikely that any funeral scaffolds would have been erected in the project area after 1853 (146 years ago), the year when virtually all the inhabitants of traditional Dakota villages near Fort Snelling were forced to relocate to reserved territory along the upper Minnesota River" (53). Without discussing the possibility of non-'traditional' Dakota presence or indigenous agency after 1853, the report sets a minimum tree age of 146 years to qualify as sacred. Once this seemingly firm number is offered, the shaky support on which is stands is easily forgotten.

Johnson's study shows us that similar trees in the area are under 135 years old, the CRA report says. Furthermore, if there was an important grave site in the area, it would have been noticed by colonists. And if that were not enough, no Dakota could possibly have been in the area after 146 years ago. Finally, trees had to have been at least fifteen years old to serve as funeral platforms.

All of these claims are highly indeterminate concerning the age of the trees, but the successive layering of data to cover weaknesses in individual layers creates the strong impression of certitude. Johnson's study has no necessary relation to the four oaks in question. It is clearly possible to imagine both Dakota tree-planting after 1853 and colonists' ignorance of both Dakota activities and funeral traditions. As always, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Finally, the assertion of tree strength is baldly unsupported; to conclude that an oak must be fifteen years of age before being able to support a Dakota funeral platform would seem to require at least a few tests of structural engineering, but no such results are offered by the CRA report.

As if in recognition of these cumulative weaknesses, the CRA report authors finish their discussion of tree age by displacing the issue: "In the final analysis, the age of the trees is really not the central issue. The most important issue is whether or not this specific location has a significant historic association" (53). This would seem to be a proper dismissal of unreliable data. However, the report concludes with a bold statement about the importance of the age of the trees: although "the actual age of the four subject trees is unknown,� the bur oaks are most likely less than 140 years old" (59). It is this moment of elision between scientific uncertainty and unscientific assertion that concerns us here. The willingness of the authors of the CRA report to assert a probable age for the trees � even when (a) they had previously admitted that the age is unknown and, (b) they also asserted that the age did not matter � is a problem because, as Latour reminds us, unsupported conjectural claims can be invested with the aura of 'scientific fact' by virtue of their position at the end of a long series of flawed but layered assertions.

The overstatement of conclusions from weak data, even in a conditional form as found in the CRA, translates into the reporting of the age of the trees as a scientific fact in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: "the study� says that the four bur oak trees identified as sacred by Indian activists are too young to be of historic significance" (Brunswick 1999, B1). Because the trees are too young, the newspaper article explains, the MnDOT can move ahead with its reroute. Thus far, we have seen how a relatively small amount of data taken from Johnson's report and historical maps and accounts, has been overextended to support conclusions which are first dismissed as "not central," then asserted as probable, then taken up in public discourse as fact. The claim that certain oaks within a mile of the four trees in question are about 130 years old is not disputable, nor is the claim that certain colonists who wrote diaries did not record a recognizable Dakota burial site in the area of the four oaks. It is also unquestionable that many Dakota people were forced to relocate from the area in the mid 1850s. What is completely unsupported is the move from "certain oaks are about 130 years old" to "the four oaks are too young to be sacred," a claim which passes through other very questionable assumptions about local Dakota activity, the structural integrity of young oak trees, and the completeness of historical accounts, and comes to rest far from the explanatory power of the original scientific data invoked.

II. B. Buried Epipedons, Buried Epistemologies

The second claim supporting the determination that the four oaks do not represent a sacred site is that "the area immediately adjacent to the four bur oak trees [is] a wetland buried by modern fill" giving the area "very low potential to contain significant archaeological deposits or human burials" (CRA, 59). This unsupported claim, that wetlands do not have high potential to contain archeological sites, first appeared in the 'Strata Morph' report � a geomorphology analysis included in the CRA report as Appendix A � where it was repeated three times without support or citation (on p. 3, 6), and was taken up as a central point of the CRA report, where it underpins the discussion of Dakota burial practices regarding wetlands. In the Section III, we examine the use of ethnohistoric evidence in constructing 'consistent' indigenous practice in the next section; here we are concerned with the way in which the existence of the wetland was determined, and a monolithic concept of 'wetlands' constructed, as a powerful weapon to be used against arguments of sacredness. In this process there is a movement from the realm of scientific proof to unsupported statements offered as scientific conclusions through a chain of induction. Latour asks, "Are you allowed to go from a few snippets of evidence to the largest and wildest claims? � These questions have no answer in principle since it all depends on the intensity of controversy with other writers" (51). Here, we unpack their "few snippets of evidence" about wetlands in order to show the weakness of the report's conclusion about the sacredness of the four trees.

Support from Strata Morph

The Strata Morph report filed in February 1999 determined the existence of hydric (wetland) soils on the project site, which are buried beneath up to four meters of sandy and gravelly fill material, which the CRA report claims were deposited as part of nearby construction in the 1920s. The soil cores taken by Strata Morph contained thin (none more than 10cm) layers of organic mucky deposits beneath the fill material, indicating that the area had experienced hydric, anoxic conditions under which organic decomposition is slowed to a degree that allows the buildup of organic matter. Although this condition is merely one of three elements in the determination of a statutory wetland by federal standards (the other two being the presence of wetland hydrology and the presence of wetland facultative or obligate vegetation), the Strata Morph report claimed that "If historic fill was not present the Central Segment [containing the oaks] would be classified as a wetland by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wetland delineation criteria"(6), with no further elaboration.

From the data presented in the Strata Morph report it is evident that organic soils are, indeed, found very close to the four oaks in question, at most fifteen feet away. The oaks are positioned between two coring sites, one of which revealed organic soils, the other of which did not. Thin areas of fill are present at both coring sites on either side of the oaks. In Figure 2 of the Strata Morph report, however, the entire area buried under the fill is depicted as a "paleosol in a wetland basin," meaning that even though the four oaks may be outside the area of wetland soils, they fell just inside the area in which fill was deposited, and the language of the claim advanced is that the oaks were "in a wetland basin". Despite considerable evidence from colonial maps in the report indicating that the oaks were located outside the area of hydric soils, by the report's conclusion the oaks have been placed firmly inside the wetlands.

Support from 'Historic' Maps

The CRA report reinforces its wetlands claim by referring to 16 historical maps between 1823 and 1927, of which, "the post 1880 era maps� consistently depict a wetland situated northwest of the Coldwater Springs along the east margin of the adjacent upland" (CRA, 35). These maps make up the bulk of the historical images presented by the report and assert a great deal of narrative power by their perceived authenticity. Somewhat lost in the flurry of maps, however, is the realization that only three of the maps show a wetland indicated anywhere near the vicinity of the oaks, while three more are either too poorly-reproduced or too broad in their coverage to interpret. Fully ten of the maps clearly show the area near the oaks with no wetlands. While this is consistent with the notion of an irregular and seasonal wetland (see below), it is not consistent with the CRA's interpretation of the site as a deterrent to indigenous ritual practice.

Even on the maps which do indicate a wetland, none of the wetland areas are shown to overlap with the location of the four oak trees. The report uses inexact language on this point, saying that "On each map, the approximate location of the four oak trees appears to be situated near the edge of a woodlot where it opens out into adjacent prairie or wetland" (14, ital. added). As will be discussed below, the flexibility of scale mobilized by the report pays off in their use of words such as "near," "approximate," and "adjacent". At no point does the report attempt to measure actual distances on those maps, and loosely sketched symbols representing wetlands and trees on hand-drawn maps are taken as unproblematic evidence of their exact location. Of the 'best map' in their collection, the authors state that:

Eastman's map is particularly noteworthy because of its detail and accuracy. The cultural and topographic features he depicts are provided at proper scale and overlain with land survey grids showing section lines. Eastman's map clearly identifies prominent natural landmarks in the vicinity of the Fort, including coldwater spring and Morgan's Mound, and also locates wetlands and woodlands (14, ital. added).

How, then, did this exemplar of the colonial gaze � detailed, accurate, and objective � miss the wetlands near the four oaks, which is depicted as a dry prairie?

Despite overwhelmingly negative evidence, the oaks have been once again narratively 'placed' in a wetland. As the data is being presented, the authors only tentatively claim that the oaks are probably adjacent to prairie or wetlands. Yet by the conclusion of the report, the authors are able to assert, in plain contradiction to their previous statements, that: "The results of the geomorphological survey further indicate that most of the project corridor, including the area marked by the four bur oak trees, actually represents a former wetland" (CRA, 58, ital. added).

What Kind of Wetland?

Once the oaks are placed in the wetland, the reports have to assert control over the meaning of "wetland" to ensure that the arrayed facts can be used to argue against indigenous use of the area. Two components of the report's general claim are salient here: first, that the area was a wetland; second, that (therefore) it could not have been sacred land. The second claim will be investigated below, but here it is important to recognize that not only does the claim of nonsacredness claim rest partially on the site's wetland status, it rests on a monolithic, undifferentiated concept of wetland that itself is a strategic construction on the part of the authors of the reports.

Although the Strata Morph report is vague on this point, the report's data suggest that the wetland was an ephemeral wetland fed by groundwater flows off of the local topographic high, Morgan's Hill (SM, 3). With a sufficiently steep surface topography (as existed on the site prior to the filling), a groundwater surface can intersect with the topographic surface, and wetlands are often found at the base of hills such as Morgan's Hill (Dingman 1994, 328-9). Groundwater-fed ephemeral wetlands vary greatly from year to year in extent and wetness, responding to local groundwater levels. Such wetlands are typically seasonal, often wet only for a few weeks in the early spring when groundwater levels are highest, and have very shallow peat layers. Any given observer over the past one hundred and fifty years could have witnessed a large wetland or no wetland at all Such a hydrology is tacitly supported by the Strata Morph report's statements that: "Subsurface flow also likely followed the gradients of these valleys to the buried wetland. Contours on the older maps are widely space [sic] in the center of the project area indicating low slope gradients," as well as by their finding of very thin peat layers. To Europeans, the site may have been indistinguishable from the surrounding prairie prior to European settlement and development, except to the trained eye of botanists or hydrologists.

Thus, the unstated answer to the question, 'what kind of wetland?' is 'an ephemeral groundwater-fed wetland produced by a break in surface topography.' However, the Strata Morph report never specifies what kind of wetland existed at the site before jumping to the claim that, had it not been filled, it would now qualify as a federally protected wetland. As Latour's approach suggests, such a claim is an effective intimidation tactic. Given the byzantine framework for classifying and delineating wetland types that has become institutionalized through wetland impact regulation, and the importance of wetland type in determining level of protection, their willingness to raise the specter of Federal designation while remaining silent on the technical grounds for such an intervention is suspicious. Latour calls this rhetorical move "captation"; the authors strategically position their actors � or in this case the presence of Federal law � to prevent readers from asking undesired questions about the weakness of the report's logic. Although the data is equivocal, the Strata Morph report uses the authority of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make the "wetland" claim without going through the Corps' wetland determination process. Any inquiry into wetlands as a differentiated category will destabilize all of the CRA's conclusions, because the report relies so heavily on this statement to support its conclusions concerning sacredness. When this support is lost, the report's conclusions rest only on an assertion about "typical" Dakota practices, which, as we will discuss in the next section, are at least as variable as the hydrology of ephemeral wetlands.

That hydrology means that the oak trees, even if near the wetland, would have been as dry as any upland in many if not most years, and dry at some periods in even the wettest of years. By specifying the wetland, we wish to call attention to the way in which a homogenized ecological category is being used to support the nonsacredness claim; when the category is unpacked, it is found that evidence has been selectively used to construct a wetland that was (a) always wet, and (b) encompassing the oak trees. Furthermore, the undifferentiated "wetland" is asserted as an area universally free of archaeological significance: the Strata Morph report states that: "The potential for buried archaeological deposits is low because the paleosol in the Central Segment marks an old wetland surface. Surface wetlands are not routinely surveyed for archaeological deposits unless they are drained, and sites are rarely found in wetlands" (6). That is, with perfectly circular reasoning, the report explains that archaeological deposits are rarely found in "wetlands," and that such sites are not searched for deposits.

"It was a swamp"

The selective use of colonial maps to establish wetland presence, the stretching of data by the Strata Morph report to establish wetland location under the oaks, and the use of a monolithic ecological category of "wetlands," come together to compose a set of claims that legitimate the paving over of the trees. The dubious work of the wetlands claim was magnified during a press conference, as the following passage from a public radio report reveals:

[W]hile Native American elders have claimed the area may include burial sites, MnDOT consultant John Hotopp says that's highly unlikely, because the area was a wetland before it was filled in the early nineteen hundreds: 'It doesn't work well as a location that one would expect to find burials or things of that nature. We'd expect to find them more closely to the edge of the bluff, for example, rather than backed tucked in against the base of a hill. � I would say categorically, no one has ever recovered human remains in that kind of environment, nobody buried in a swamp [sic]' (MPR 1999, ital. added).

We do not contest the claim that some kind of wetland was present, nor do we doubt that the extent of the wetland may have approached the oaks in wet years. What concerns us here is the unsupported movement from "hydric soils exist" to "it was a wetland", because the type of wetland (not specified in the report) has enormous consequences for the rest of the claims made by the report; even more problematic is public assertion that "nobody [is] buried in a swamp," which is wholly unsupported by any ethnographic or soils evidence. This claim marks the moment when the contestable rhetoric of the wetland data has been smuggled outside the arena of science. To summarize: the fact that hydric soils exist is supported by the data; the next assertion, that a wetland existed, is partially supported by the data, but is a broad and almost meaningless claim in the context of evaluating indigenous practices at the site; the third assertion, that the oaks were in wetlands, is discredited by most of their data; the final assertion, that archaeological remains are not found in wetlands, is completely beyond the scope of the data and left wholly unsupported.

III. No Net Loss of Colonialism

[C]olonialist practices and rhetorics remain present but unthought in many of the categories, identities, and representational practices that are deployed today both in public debate and scientific management of 'natural landscapes' and 'natural resources' (Braun 1997, 3).

Having argued that the trees are too young, and that the land was too wet, the authors of the CRA report need to link the scientific data with the argument that the land is not sacred. To do so, they step outside of the domain of science and into the realm of historical and cultural evidence and non-scientific ways of knowing. As Latour, Braun, and Sparke have demonstrated, it is crucial to consider how the authors build their case that the four bur oaks do no constitute sacred space. In this section, we show how the slippage, questions, and errors of their scientific analysis of the wetlands are manifest and further complicated in their arguments about history and indigenous culture.

III. A. The Problem of Scale

The cultural report concludes that the site of the four bur oaks does not constitute sacred space. But the same report recommends a "complete assessment of Coldwater Spring as a sacred place" (61). Elsewhere, the report notes that Morgan's Hill � known in Dakota as Taku Wakan Tipi, a place central to Dakota political and spiritual life � marks the home of the Onktehi (40). The report quotes an 1866 essay by a missionary visiting Fort Snelling:

A little to the left of the road leading from Fort Snelling to Minnehaha, in sight of the fort, is a hill which is used, at present, as a burial place. The hill is known to the Dakotas as "Taku wakan tipi," the dwelling place of the gods. It is believed that one of this family of divinities dwells there [G. Pond 1889: 220].

As the report notes, this site is "almost certainly" Morgan's Hill, now under the Veteran's Hospital and Naval Air Station. Thus, the report accepts that both the spring and Taku Wakan Tipi are sacred areas of the Dakota.

The importance of these points emerges in light of the overwhelming evidence that, for the Dakota and other indigenous peoples, the region marked by the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers was both culturally significant and sacred as a site of inter-indigenous nation meetings. Abundant evidence for this point can be found in the statements of oral testimony in Appendix C of the report (which is selectively quoted by the authors of the CRA report, a point addressed below). La Rockzana Hop, a local government official and a Mendota Dakota elder, explains that the name Mendota is etymologically linked to this place: "Mendota comes from the Dakota words, mde ohute, which mean the joining of the waters. In the context of the Mendota people, the term refers to the place where the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers meet." Similarly, Gary Cavender, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, explains that "the whole area around the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers is sacred to the Dakota people." This point is echoed by Jim Anderson, cultural chair of the Mendota Mdewakanton community: "The confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers makes the area a significant meeting place."

If we takes these statements seriously, it become obvious that it is not appropriate to evaluate the sacredness of the four oaks site outside of the context of the spring, Taku Wakan Tipi, the falls, and the confluence of these two rivers. Only by de-emphasizing the proximity of these significant landscape features can the report reach the astonishing conclusion that the spring, but not the trees, should be preserved from the road's destruction. (This conclusion serves the MnDOT perfectly, since it believes that it can build the road without damaging the spring, but not the four oaks.) The report can only reach this conclusion by focusing extremely narrowly on the scale of the trees, arbitrarily limiting the 'proper' provenance of evidence for sacredness to an area of no more than a few hundred feet across � roughly the size of a small church. But if one stands back at a 'wider' scale to consider the question of whether the four oaks constitute a scared site, their location seems perfectly suited as a Dakota burial site: they stand near a sacred spring, atop a bluff, above the confluence of two major rivers, and immediately below "the dwelling place of the gods."

We can imagine the authors of the CRA report responding to our argument that the site must be considered in this broader context by saying: "But we are only following Federal guidelines, and focusing narrowly on the contested site, as we are supposed to." There are two replies. First, it is clear from the way the report cites Federal guidelines that there is considerable flexibility in interpreting the site's boundaries and the factors influencing assessment. Although Federal law and legal precedent provide some guidelines for interpreting what constitutes a site, the exact delineation of the site is fundamentally subjective. Given the overwhelming indigenous testimony that a broader scale is more appropriate for cultural assessment, a fairer and more responsible approach would have located the four oaks in this broader spatial and cultural context. Second, the authors do use a broader scale of analysis � but only when it suits their argument. Although they focus extremely narrowly when evaluating the sacredness of the bur oaks, in other places, they stretch their scale of analysis to include all of Minnesota and the Dakotas. For example, when the authors need to make a claim about the Dakota burial practices, they draw upon evidence from this broad region (46). In short, the whole report rests on an erasure of the place of the oaks � an erasure interrupted by the indigenous testimony.


III. B. The Problem of Dakota Culture

There is a second problem with the claim that the four trees do not constitute sacred space: the claim rests upon a reified notion of Dakota culture that assumes that indigenous cultural practices did not change in the decades leading up to, and immediately following, the colonization of Minnesota, and that the colonizers 'knew' this culture. Remember that the claim that the trees are not sacred hinges on the assumption that "The landscape position of the four bur oak trees � is not typical for traditional Dakota cemeteries" (59). The evidence for this assumption comes from a "review of available archeological and ethnohistoric information regarding traditional Dakota funeral practices [that] indicates a strong cultural preference for locating cemeteries on prominent topographic features." We will unpack these assumptions about what is "typical" and "traditional."

Our starting-point is the two forms of evidence used by the authors to make this claim. First, the authors write three paragraphs on 'archeological observations' (pp.41-2), where they simply summarize present interpretations of the mound cemeteries built by the Eastern Dakota peoples. Because the authors draw no conclusions from it, this section is uncontroversial. By contrast, the second source of evidence in this section is 'ethnohistoric' data, drawn from colonial records of Dakota burial practices (pp. 42-7). Like the soils data, the historical evidence must be seen as more equivocal than the authors would suggest. Consider the two following passages, where the authors summarize the archeological literature:

Mound cemeteries tend to be located near bodies of water such as lakes and rivers, and are often situated near village sites. In general, the mounds tend to be situated on prominent topographic features or areas with greatest relief near water such as blufftops that overlook major rivers [such as the site in question]Individual burials tend to be present in the form of secondary interments or 'bundle burials' � This mode of interment is consistent with the use of pole scaffolds or tree platforms observed during the historic period � Several archeologists have cited Dakota funeral practices, specifically the use of above-ground platforms to explain the presence of bundle burials found in Wisconsin and Minnesota mound excavations (41, ital. added).

They elaborate on the practice of above-ground burials on the next page:

Perhaps the most common observation made regarding Dakota funeral practices [in colonial records] are the descriptions these accounts provide of placing the deceased on elevated scaffolds or in trees � prior to in-ground burial. The archeological evidence � suggests that this use of scaffolds or funeral platforms have a very long history in Dakota culture. It is not altogether clear from historic accounts when the Dakota stopped actually building mounds [or, we might add, using tree platforms], but information derived from both archeological contexts (Anfinson 1984:27) and historic accounts (Riggs 1893:212) clearly demonstrates that the Dakota continued to bury their dead in existing mounds, some originally constructed centuries before, well into the nineteenth century (42, ital. added).


The report begins to slip away from a legitimate review of the historical record into a problematic rewriting of Dakota history with the next statement: "the influence of Christian missionaries after 1830 and the cultural turmoil that followed the Dakota Conflict in 1862 appear to have forced the Dakota to abandon certain traditional funeral practices, including the use of platforms and mounds" (42). No evidence or citations are offered in support of this claim. At best, it rests on the fact that colonial authorities did not record the presence of 'traditional funeral practices' after this point. What is to say such practices did not continue outside of the colonial gaze?

The authors then review five nineteenth century accounts of Dakota funeral practices. Because these are used to establish the 'consistent' pattern of historical documentation of 'traditional' funeral practices which support the CRA's conclusions, we need to break these down to find the specific claims enabled by these accounts. The first three accounts make essentially the same point, with slight variations in language:

  • The first account, that of Riggs, notes that scaffolds are erected on mounds to "have a good view of the surrounding country" (45).
  • The second informant, Seymour, writes that "A half-breed Indian informed me, that Indians � prefer to have their bodies elevated in a conspicuous place�" (45).
  • The third informant, an indigenous writer named Ohiyesa, writes: "It was usual to choose a prominent hill with a commanding outlook for the last resting-place of our dead" (45).


The only point taken by the authors is very straightforward: that indigenous burial mounds and platforms tended to be in prominent places. This claim would not seem to undermine contemporary Dakota claims that the four bur oaks, which were planted on a limestone bluff roughly 110-100 feet above the Mississippi river, constitute a sacred site.

The fourth informant, Pond, is used by the authors is a slightly different fashion. They urge the reader to see how Pond implies that "groups closer to Fort Snelling such as the Mdewakanton had already abandoned some [burial] practices" (46) by the early twentieth century. Even if Pond's excerpt (below) supported this, it is not clear how it would weaken the argument that the trees were used as funeral scaffolds in the nineteenth century. In any case, the claim is based on a reading from the following passage:

Some were buried when they died, but most of them were placed for a time on trees or scaffolds. In the region of the upper Minnesota river [in Western Minnesota], I have seen them wrapped in buffalo-skins and fastened among the branches of trees, and it is not probable that the Dakotas used coffins before they were acquainted with white men. At Lac Qui Parle, I have known one or two dead bodies to be left on trees until the enwrapping decayed and the bones fell to the earth (46 [Pond 1908: 478]).


That the authors cite this passage as evidence that the Dakota near Fort Snelling (in Eastern Minnesota) had already abandoned "some of these practices" indicates the length that they are willing to stretch a fragment of the colonial record to support their narrative. One needs only to ask: might Pond have missed a few burial platforms in the mid-nineteenth century? And do colonial sitings of cultural practices in Western Minnesota have any bearing on those 250 miles to the East?

The (implied) assumption that the colonial record captured all evidence of Dakota cultural practices is here revealed. The authors suggest that Pond's passage � which at face value suggests that the practice of burying the dead in trees continued until around the time of writing (1908) � supports their narrative only if one assumes that the colonizing European-Americans knew everything about the Dakota. It is precisely this kind of 'buried epistemology' that Braun shows is implicated in colonialist representations of indigenous peoples.

The fifth informant, Featherstonhaugh, is used by the authors in a most peculiar way. Citing his account of the use of coffins by the Dakota in the 1930s, the authors of the CRA report write that "it would seem that coffins were used rather frequently by Dakota groups who lived near Fort Snelling" (46). Beyond this bland accusation that the Dakota were 'losing their culture,' the authors make no claims about coffins; perhaps their intent in citing this account is to place the idea in the reader's mind that the Dakota near the Fort abandoned tree-scaffolds altogether. Such a claim should have little weight, given the lack of any evidence to support it, and the fact that coffin use in 1930 does not rule out scaffold use in 1860.

These five accounts are all that stands as evidence for the conclusion that "it seems unlikely that a wetland environment situated at the base of an upland, and some distance from the bluff edge, would be selected as a preferred setting for planting trees intended to hold funeral platforms. In this context, the location of the four oaks � is inconsistent" (47). As we have shown in this section, there are three overarching problems with this logic:


III. C. The Problem of Indigenous Testimony

Not only do the CRA report's authors treat colonial evidence as unproblematic; they also ignore, or erase, indigenous voices that directly counter their claims. Herein lies the third problem with their treatment of the historical record: whereas the colonial � or in the report's language, the 'historical' � maps and records are treated as unproblematic, indigenous oral testimony is edited to exclude all but the barest statements about the four trees and Coldwater spring.

In order to show precisely how this colonial interpretation of indigenous voices operates, we have constructed two tables by comparing the information included in the body of the CRA report and the transcripts of testimony (published separately as Appendix C). The first table compares the way in which the twelve people who offered affidavits are defined in the CRA report with the way they define themselves in their affidavits.

While we cannot expand on how the authors frame the voice of each speaker, the case of Dick Black is particularly illustrative. In the CRA report, Black is cited only as "Dick Black, Iowa Tribe." An unsuspecting reader might guess that Black is a member of an indigenous 'tribe' in the state of Iowa, and writing an affidavit because he is sympathetic to the Dakota cause. What the authors do not reveal, however, is that Black is the Repatriation Representative for the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma and currently employed as a Field Inspector for the National Congress of American Indians, for whom he ensures enforcement of Federal indigenous rights laws (Black also teaches Repatriation law at the University of Missouri Law School at Kansas City). Access to this information would surely change the way a reader considers his testimony (not cited in the CRA report):

It is my opinion and belief that in the ground under or near the path of the proposed Highway 55 construction, are burial remains of ancestors of the Iowa tribe. My opinion is based on numerous cultural and historical factors. The Oneote culture � which came to be part of what was later labeled by the United States government as the Iowa tribe, used to live [in] Minnesota � There were burial remains which were discovered near the Minneapolis International Airport and the Veterans Hospital which belong to the Iowa and Dakota peoples. � I am certain that the Iowa tribe would have set up a village around Camp Coldwater because it has always been part of our tradition to set up villages around natural springs (1999, 3).


Even a superficial analysis of what is included and excluded in these affidavits and oral testimony reveals that the authors frame the speaker's voices in very specific ways in order to enable their displacement and silencing. As Table I indicates, indigenous people are only identified only by reference to their 'tribe' (often cutting out significant cultural identifications, such as age or position in the community). As Table II shows, the only statements that are cited specifically refer to the spring and four oaks. By imposing these highly limiting standards on the testimonies, the authors frame the statements in such a way as to minimize their power as evidence, and as statements delivering a particular truth. In one case, that of Larry Cloud-Morgan, the authors choose not to cite the following passage that indicates a continuous

Table I: Framing Indigenous Voices


How Author is Identified in Report

How Author Identifies Himself

Michael Haney

No citations (not identified).

"I am an enrolled member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma" and "Chairman of the Repatriation Committee of the United Indian Nations in Oklahoma."

David Fudally

No citations (not identified).

"I am an amateur historian with a special interest in the history of the first early pioneer, military, and Indian settlements in Minnesota."

Zac Mitteness


"I am a Ojibway descendent of Nay Gwon Abe, a chief of the Mille Lacs Band of Indians. My Native name is Bannaissi-Dogoshin [Eagle Returns]. I was born in Ga-Ka-Be-Kong [the falls] Minneapolis, Minnesota."

Jeffery Grundtner

"a resident of the East Nokomis neighborhood"

"I am currently a member of the board of trustees for Hennepin History Museum and County Historical Society � [and] a friend and relative of a Mdewakanton spiritual leader � I have accepted the Dakota spiritual way of life as my own."

La Rockzana Hop

"Santee Sioux"

"I have been Deputy Mayor and a City Council person for the city of Mendota [and] a Native American who is legally enrolled at the Santee Sioux Reservation [and] for the Mendota Mdwekanton Dakota Community."

James Anderson

"Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota"

"I am � the Cultural Chair of the Mendota Mdewakaton Dakota Community" who has "spent the last three years � speaking with Lakota/Dakota and other Native American spiritual elders, and reading about the history of the Mendota people at the Minnesota Historical Society."

Gary Cavender (1)

"Mdewakanton Dakota"

"I am a Native American belonging to the Mdewakanton Dakota band. I am the spiritual leader of the Prior Lake Shakopee Dakota band. I am age 58."

Gary Cavender (2)

The second affidavit is not cited (and not identified).

"I am a member, elder, and spiritual leader in the Shakopee Dakota Community. � I have been designated by the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council as its spokesperson on issues relating to the proposed reroute of Highway 55."

Clifford Duran

"Chippewa and Cree"

"I am a native American person -- Chippewa and Cree [,] spiritual leader and medicineman (healer)."

Larry Cloud-Morgan


"I am a Ojibwe Indian, age 60, who was born and grew up in the Leech Lake and Red Lake area."

Dick Black

"Iowa Tribe"

"I live in Oklahoma, and am an enrolled member of the Native American Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma. I am employed as the Repatriation Representative for the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma. I am also employed as a Field Inspector for the National Congress of American Indians to ensure federal enforcement of the Native Grave Protection Act, the National Historical Preservation Act, the Archeological resource Protection Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. � [M]y responsibilities include not only burying those who have just died, but also identifying already existing burial sites and protecting their spiritual and cultural integrity. � [M]y professional training includes six years of working with and learning from my uncle, a spiritual elder in my clan. I have independently worked on burials and repatriation of burial sites for 12 years. � I have taught Indian history and repatriation issues as a visiting professor or guest lecturer at numerous colleges."

Chris Leith

"Mdewakanton Dakota"

"I am a Native American person belonging to the Mdewakanton Dakota people and residing at Prairie Island. For 30 years I have been a Sun Dance Chief, a chief spiritual advisor, a healer and an interpreter for the Mdewakanton nation. I am 63 years old."

Table II: Marginalizing Indigenous Testimony


Excluded Statements / Information

Michael Haney

"I have within the past week visited the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota village sites in the vicinity of Fort Snelling and in the area contemplated for the reroute of highway 55 � I found there evidence of burial or sacred sites, continuing occupation sites, and cultural affiliated and historically significant villages of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota people. It is my opinion that these are sacred sites, as defined by Executive Order #13007, the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act, entitling them to all the protections, privileges, and access afforded by Federal laws."

David Fudally

That Fudally found "bones, and an 'Indian axe' sticking out of an eroded embankment on state park land 50 yards south of the Bureau of Mines property just below highway 55" in 1988 (C-2).

Zac Mitteness

"This place where our ancestors lived, traded, prayed, and gathered. It is a powerful place even though it has been raped by the Fort, Bureau of Mines, and other forms of progress."

Jeffery Grundtner

The report does not mention that he carries a sacred pipe. "I humbly performed my duty as a pipe carrier by responding to a call to prayer by a Higher Power."

La Rockzana Hop

"Mendota comes from the Dakota words, 'mde ohute,' which mean [sic] the joining of the waters. In the context of the Mendota people, the term refers to the place where the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers meet." This statement indicates the significance of the bluff in a broader scale than the report judges the site.

James Anderson

Anderson is quoted once in the report -- "There are also a diamond-shaped alignment of four large and very old oak trees right in the path of the proposed reroute. These trees are sacred to our people. They were used as burial scaffolds by the Dakota people, and also for the sacred ceremony called a vision quest" (35). Not included is the preceding statement: "I have also learned from our elders and various historical work that burial remains of our people and other Native peoples are located all over the area" (3). Also excluded is his emphasis on the dual history of the place, for indigenous and European peoples.

Gary Cavender (1)

"The entire area where we lived, fought and buried our dead is sacred to the Dakota Mdewakanton people."

Gary Cavender (2)

"[T]he whole area around the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers is sacred to the Dakota people. � [W]e are also concerned about burial remains and sacred objects that are likely to be disturbed and violated by the highway construction. We believe there are Native American burial remains and sacred objects under the path of the proposed reroute. Our oral history tells us that the area has long been culturally important and sacred to our people."

Clifford Duran

"I was given tobacco and asked to come to the encampment near Fort Snelling to see if the area was good or bad for our people. I performed a ceremony in their sweat lodge and the 'grandfathers', or the spirits, spoke to me. The spirits told me that they won't put a road on top of this part of the Earth � because many relatives are buried there and a road would destroy their spirits."

Larry Cloud-Morgan

The report cites his comments about the trees, but excises one sentence: "The trees need to be left intact as a legacy to the next generation." It excludes the following key section: "My grandparents and other elders told me about the history of Fort Snelling and the Dakota people who lived and died in the surrounding area. My grandparents traveled to various Dakota Indian locations around Minnesota, including the area near Fort Snelling, for tribal celebrations. Significantly, they visited ceremonies at the time of Little Crow near the present Mdewakanton encampment. Through my grandparents � I am privy to the oral tradition regarding sacred sites in the area slated for destruction if the highway is rerouted."

Dick Black

"It is my opinion and belief that in the ground under or near the path of the proposed Highway 55 construction, are burial remains of ancestors of the Iowa tribe. My opinion is based on numerous cultural and historical factors. The Oneote culture � which came to be part of what was later labeled by the United States government as the Iowa tribe, used to live throughout the areas that are now Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri. � There were burial remains which were discovered near the Minneapolis International Airport and the Veterans Hospital which belong to the Iowa and Dakota peoples. � I am certain that the Iowa tribe would have set up a village around Camp Coldwater because it has always been part of our tradition to set up villages around natural springs."

Chris Leith

"I visited this sacred site and performed a ceremony. I, and the other Indians present, sensed that the spirits of the dead Indians are still there. I also know this from my dreams and visions, which are an important part of working with the spirits."

oral history identifying the site as a "location of a prehistoric or historic event" (Bulletin 15, cited in CRA, 51). Cloud-Morgan explains:

My grandparents and other elders told me about the history of Fort Snelling and the Dakota people who lived and died in the surrounding area. My grandparents traveled to various Dakota Indian locations around Minnesota, including the area near Fort Snelling, for tribal celebrations. Significantly, they visited ceremonies at the time of Little Crow near the present Mdewakanton encampment. Through my grandparents � I am privy to the oral tradition regarding sacred sites in the area slated for destruction if the highway is rerouted (1999: 2).


Interestingly, the last quotation of an indigenous activist used in the report is by Clyde Bellecourt, who is identified as a member of the American Indian Movement. Bellecourt is cited with saying: "I didn't even know that this spring existed then until Earth First! AND THE [sic] Mendota Mdewakanton people came down here. � Never heard anything about this spring till we knew it was going to be under destruction�" (38). This claim � especially when placed at the end of a string of quotes by other indigenous people � appears to undermine the credibility of claims that this site is well-known. The quote, however, is not referenced, and Bellecourt does not have an affidavit in the Appendices. Since we are left wondering where the authors found this quote, it is worth contrasting with another statement by Bellecourt:

Spiritual Elders such as Chris Leith from Prairie Island, a member of the Golden Eagle Society; Gary Cavendar, a member of the State Of Minnesota Indian Affairs Council from Shakopee; Harry Charger from the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota; and Larry Cloud Morgan, traditional elder of the Anishinabeg Nation among others, have all come to this place and recognized how sacred this land is, and the spiritual nature of the struggle to save this land from being paved over. This is the last remaining burr oak savannah along the Mississippi river. � We realize that most of the bones of our ancestors have already been dug up and removed. What we are asking for, demanding, is that what remains of our culture, our sacred sites, and our dignity be preserved. There is no justification to continue this 500 years of genocide just so commuters can get from downtown to the Mall of America three minutes faster (Bellecourt and Anderson 1999).


III. Conclusion

In the end, Governor Ventura has � as is his style � cut to the heart of the matter in plain speech: "Who determines what is � sacred?" (1999: 26). Such glibness is meant to suggest that any answer to his question is as good as any other, a relativism that plays into calls for an 'objective,' strong state to adjudicate the question and "draw the line" that delineates sacredness. It is plainly the state who determines what is sacred, albeit a state divided between multiple institutions (the MnDOT, the judiciary, the 600 police officers, etc.). These various, fractured elements have employed tactics and maneuvers against the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota that are all too familiar to students of the colonial history of the American West. Because the present state legitimates its use of force through appeals to a 'fair' democratic process, that cannot be seen as explicitly infringing upon 'minority rights,' the CRA report appeals to science, a rhetoric imbued with objectivity � the key to 'justice.' In this spirit, Transportation Commissioner Elwin Tinklinberg praised the CRA as "an objective report" in a press conference organized for its release (MPR 1999).

The material in the CRA report was arranged for the State of Minnesota by its consultant, Louis Berger and Associates, to lead readers to the conclusion that scientific rationality, combined with the strictures of federal law, leave the state guiltless in its push for the highway reroute. By the end of the CRA report, it would appear that science and blind Federal law have shown the invalidity of indigenous claims. In truth, it is simply that the indigenous claims have been marginalized, though not altogether erased, by spurious representations of soil and hydrogeomorphic data, the near-libelous excerpting of Native elders' testimony, and the distortion of culture, scale, and 'wetland' to suit the state's claims. Notwithstanding the report's conclusions, could the same data lead one to the finding that the four oak trees are sacred? The answer is an emphatic yes.

Our goal in this paper has not been to show the failures of the CRA report by 'proving' the sacredness of the four oaks. Rather, we have tried to clarify the process through which this document seeks to establish what constitutes 'the sacred.' Judgements about sacredness are never universal or pre-discursive; nor can they be considered 'proven' by science or nature. Sacredness is a difficult, complex, highly contested realm, subject to perpetual construction and mediation through cultural practices, such as reading, debate, and ritual. The CRA report is a text that constructs one version of the sacredness � or rather, the lack thereof � of one particular place. In it, the enormous power of scientific discourse in modern culture clearly works to the advantage of the MnDOT � a fact demonstrated by a crucial silence: the report never defends its assumption that 'sacredness' constitutes an ontological space that can be interrogated by science, like 'color,' or 'elevation.' The context in which this silence legitimates certain kinds of sacredness and not others, is, we have argued, shaped by the state and its colonial history.


Works Cited

Aspen, Spiney, and Tumbleweed. 1999. "Massive Attack on Minnehaha." Earth First! Journal XVIV, III: cover.

Brown, Linda. July 7, 1999. Personal communication.

Brunswick, Mike. April 30, 1999. "Hwy. 55 Study Finds No Sacred Sites." Minneapolis Star-Tribune B1.

Dingman, S. L. 1994. Physical Hydrology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Hall, Stuart. 1996. "When Was the 'Post-Colonial'? Thinking at the Limit." In The Post-Colonial Question: Common Skin, Divided Horizons, ed. S. Hall and B. Gieben, pp. 275-332. London: Routledge.

Hotopp, J. A., R. M., Withrow, I. Wuebber, and F. Pittaluga. 1999. A Cultural Resource Assessment of the Proposed Reroute for Trunk Highway 55, 54th Street to County Road 62, Hennepin County, Minnesota. Marion, Iowa: Louis Berger and Associates, Inc.

Johnson, Gary. 1998. "Report on the Aging of Bur Oaks near Minnehaha Falls, Minneapolis, MN." Appendix D to Hotopp, Withrow, Wuebber, and Pittaluga (1999).

Kolb, Michael F. 1999. "Stratigraphic and Geomorphological Investigations Along a Portion of Minnesota Trunk Highway 55, Minneapolis, Minnesota." Strata Morph Geoexploration Report of Investigations No. 20. Appendix A to Hotopp, Withrow, Wuebber, and Pittaluga (1999).

Latour, Bruno. 1987. Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Thunder Before the Storm [Clyde H. Bellecourt], and Red Sky [Jim Anderson]. "Indian Affairs Council wrong on re-route." Letter to the Pioneer Press. Posted on December 1999, at http://freenet.msp.mn.us/org/stop55/news/letters_to_the_editor.htm

Ventura, Jesse. 1999. I Ain't Got Time to Bleed: Reworking the Body Politic from the Bottom Up. NY: Villard.

Braun-Willems, Bruce. 1997. "Buried Epistemologies: The Politics of Nature in (Post) Colonial British Columbia." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 87: 1, 3-31.


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