“We are now one percent of one percent, when we used to be the entire state of Minnesota.” Jim Rock, Dakota Sisitunwan, instructor and Director of Indigenous Programming at the University of Minnesota Duluth and a scholar of Wakáŋ Tipi Cave and present-day Indian Mounds Park in Saint Paul.
Rock has spent decades studying the sacred space known to generations of non-Native Minnesotans as a public park, and to many indigenous Minnesotans, particularly Dakota, as a sacred burial ground.
“Mounds Park,” as it is colloquially called by Saint Paul-ites is a famous -- and all too often infamous -- site for anyone who grew up in the area. Like too much history, its truth and significance were erased, suppressed, and often desecrated and disrespected.
Along with the genocide, removal, forced re-education, and colonization of American Indians from their native Minnesota, Native people have been separated from the history and significance of their sacred places. But through scholarly efforts, and the Native-led nonprofit organization Lower Phalen Creek Project, the area is currently under intensive conservation and environmental restoration.
Dakota history is an oral and storytelling tradition but was also documented with the kinds of petroglyphs that once existed on the walls of Wakáŋ Tipi Cave cave, which also served to honor the spirits that existed within. European settlers, developers, and the expansion of the railroad desecrated the cave and destroyed the petroglyphs. But through Native-led research and restoration efforts, the sacred nature of the space is being re-introduced to non-Native visitors as a sacred place that should be respected as such, and a growing number of Native Minnesotans are embracing the area as it was once used and intended.