Judge throws out Coldwater Spring caseby Art Hughes, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A dispute over access to a plot of land in Minneapolis was at the center of a federal court case in U.S. District Court in St. Paul. The case involves three people exercising what they say are their tribal rights detailed in a 200-year-old treaty.
The site is not far from Minnehaha Falls, and has echoes of protests over the Highway 55 rerouting.
The defendants challenged a requirement to obtain a federal permit to access Coldwater Spring, which is recognized as a culturally important site for American Indian tribes in Minnesota.
Federal District Judge Arthur Boylan dismissed the case against three people accused of disobeying an officer. The defendants in the case were all challenging the authority of the federal government to restrict access to the land because of an 1805 treaty with the Sioux tribe. None of the defendants is a member of a federally recognized tribe.
In October 2005, Jim Anderson, Chris Mato Nunpa and Susu Jeffrey refused to comply with requirements to obtain and present a permit to collect water at the Coldwater Spring near Fort Snelling in Minneapolis.
Government officials required the permit for a three-month period to control access to the former Bureau of Mines research complex. The agency had abandoned the site and the buildings fell into disrepair. Among other things, federal officials were concerned the site presented a public safety hazard.
In addition to housing the buildings, the site is also home to the Coldwater Spring, deemed a culturally significant site both for its presumed use by local tribes and its documented importance as a source of water for the U.S. soldiers who built nearby Fort Snelling.
It is also the epicenter of efforts in the late 1990s to halt the state's effort to reconfigure Highway 55. The Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community, of which defendant Jim Anderson is chairman, claimed the spring and several oak trees in the path of the new highway constituted sacred ground. Opponents of the project lost their battle and the highway went ahead as planned.
In an earlier court ruling, Judge Boylan refused the allow the defendants to argue they were protected by the 1805 treaty which allows the existing tribes to "pass, repass, hunt or make other uses of the said district as they have done before." Boylan said the government restrictions were reasonable under the treaty because they were temporary and dealt with public safety.
Each of the three defendants was cited for disobeying a federal officer who told them to present the permit or leave the property.
The citation is a petty misdemeanor that carries a $125 fine. In the latest ruling, Boylan threw out the case saying he was "not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt" that the defendants committed a crime. Doing so sidestepped the potential for a protracted legal struggle over the validity and applicability of the treaty signed more than 200 years ago.