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Introduction: Native Rights and the Afton Wastewater Treatment Project

Introduction

Afton Engineer's map showing planned sewer drilling through the head of the Rattlesnake Effigy Mound.

Afton Engineer’s map showing planned sewer drilling through the head of the Rattlesnake Effigy Mound. Click to enlarge.

The proposed Afton Wastewater Treatment Facility project will have significant adverse effects on important Native American archaeological and cultural resources.

The St. Croix River has been known for thousands of years by the Dakota people as Hogan Wanke Kin, or “the place where the fish lies,” a reference to a legend originating from—among other places—the well-known Wisconsin sandbar known as Catfish Bar, across the river from the city of Afton, Minnesota.

Lewis' sketch of the Rattlesnake Effigy from his June 25, 1883 survey.

Lewis’ sketch of the Rattlesnake Effigy from his June 25, 1883 survey. Click to enlarge.

In June 1883, the archaeologist T. H. Lewis located and surveyed the Rattlesnake effigy mound in Afton. Human remains were excavated from the mound in the 1950s, as documented in a 1956 Stillwater Gazette article, “Indian Grave”. Then property owner D.J. Peabody was quoted as saying:

“At least one tomahawk and a number of arrowheads have been found in the mound…A number of years ago, several workmen uncovered two skulls from the body of the fish.”

Previous archaeological excavations across this region have unearthed thousands of Native American artifacts. An arrowhead excavated from the Rattlesnake Mound site sits, just a few blocks away from the mound, in the Afton Historical Museum.

The City of Afton’s engineer’s map (below) of the proposed sewer project shows a plan in which five new pipelines (in red) violate the physical boundaries of the Rattlesnake mound, passing through the head and body outline.

Existing sewer lines (in orange) will likely also be excavated, thus further disturbing this key Native American cultural treasure and burial ground.

rattlesnake-drilling-plan

While tentatively listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Rattlesnake Mound has yet to be fully surveyed and receive a final official designation. An aerial photo/map (below), submitted with a May 2015 archaeological survey, outlines the location of proposed storm ponds (in yellow) in relation to the Rattlesnake mound. The sheer proximity reveals an amazing level of disregard for an obvious spatial violation of what should be a federally-protected sacred mound.

20150527-Constance-Arzigian-aerial-2-DETAIL

The association between the presence of the Dakota in this area of the St. Croix and the Catfish Bar legend, that provided their name for the river, is all the more significant given that the Afton Rattlesnake effigy and Catfish Bar lie across the river from each other and—a little further to the west on the Afton side—the tips of Native American pointing trees stretch out towards both landmarks.

1848 General Land Office survey map showing Catfish Bar

1848 General Land Office survey map showing Catfish Bar. Click to enlarge.

The point must be made that the area of Dakota cultural significance around Afton is much larger than the mound site itself. It also includes the Catfish Bar, the pointing trees, and other areas likely within and immediately adjacent to the proposed treatment facility. The presence of the known trio of natural and man-made spiritual markers in this small geographical area suggests this section of the river is as potentially significant to the Dakota people as Jerusalem is to Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Without a full archaeological survey of the Native American presence in the area, there is a danger that an important cultural history will be destroyed irrevocably.

Sewer construction in the area of the Afton Rattlesnake mound and adjacent smaller mounds can only negatively impact the remaining archaeological resources and human remains. Further, the project’s increased flow of water into the St. Croix immediately above Catfish Bar may impact the sandy natural structure, the very cultural resource that inspired the Dakota to name the St. Croix River, “the place where the fish lies”.

Without further investigation, as well as consultation with Dakota elders, spiritual leaders, and communities, it is impossible to fully determine the exact environmental and cultural effects of this project. As it stands now, the project will obviously result in significant, irreversible, adverse effects to the Rattlesnake mound and other cultural resources. Consequently, we believe that an Environmental Impact Statement* and full archaeological survey of the area are both needed to responsibly answer these questions. A thorough archaeological investigation will describe the full extent of the damage this project will have to the cultural and archaeological resources in the project area.

*An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a document prepared to describe the effects for proposed activities on the environment. “Environment,” in this case, is defined as the natural and physical environment and the relationship of people with that environment.


Resources highlighting local Native American history

Learn more about the Afton sewer project's impact on Native American historical and cultural resources

cfvc-native-rights-cover-320x420The proposed Afton Wastewater Treatment Facility project will have significant adverse effects on important Native American archaeological and cultural resources. The City of Afton’s engineer’s map of the proposed sewer project shows a plan in which five new pipelines violate the physical boundaries of the Rattlesnake mound, passing through the head and body outline. Get "Native Rights and the Afton Wastewater Treatment Project", with an introduction and primary sources documenting Native American history in the area. 10-page PDF file (4.2MB)
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