In the Spotlight

News & Features
End of the Road?
By Mary Losure
December 13, 1999
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See a slideshow of the encampment shortly before the weekend raid.
The four oak trees that protesters of the Highway 55 reroute in south Minneapolis quite literally rallied around are gone; removed by state crews over the weekend. Members of the Mendota Medwakanton Dakota Community claimed the trees were sacred. But even with the trees gone, reroute opponents say they'll fight on.

LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS moved in early Saturday morning to end a 16-month-long encampment in the path of the Highway 55 reroute and begin the final clearing of trees in highway right of way. The trees cut down Saturday included four big oak trees that members of the Mendota Mdwakanton Dakota and their supporters said were sacred. Mendota Dakota Cultural Chairman Jim Anderson says even though the oaks are gone, he's still going to try to protect other places the Mendota Dakota feel are sacred.
Anderson: They can kill trees and they can rape the Earth like they're doing but they can't rape the spirit of a person, and that's what keeps me going. I have to continue, I'm not sure why. People that are driven sometimes, I'm not sure what drives them, but they got to keep going.
Now that the four trees have been cut, experts can determine how old they were. That issue has been hotly disputed. The Mendota Dakota said the trees were once used as Dakota burial scaffolds, but they refused to allow the trees to be bored and age-tested when they were living. MnDOt officials insisted the trees are too young to be of cultural or religious significance. A study done by consultants hired by MnDOT study said the trees were probably less than 140 years old. The study said that would make them too young to have been used as burial scaffolds by the Dakota people.

So far, there has been no official determination of the age of the four trees, but Anderson's 11-year-old cousin, Ryan Scott, was out looking at the cross sections of the four trees on Sunday.
Scott: I counted all them rings inside them trees, the north tree is 165 years old, the south tree is 135 the east one is 169, and the west one is 172.
MnDot spokesperson Kent Barnard said the department has sent cross sections of the biggest trees to the University of Minnesota but no results are available yet.
Barnard: We are going to have to wait until the tree sample that was cut on Saturday is actually age-dated by the University of Minnesota, and age was just one criteria that was neccessary for these trees to be considered sacred, so age alone would not determine if they were sacred.
The Mendota Dakota's Jim Anderson says the Mendota Dakota community will now focus its efforts on protecting a natural spring at the site of historic Camp Coldwater, just south of the site of the four trees. The spring is on the abandoned campus of the Federal Bureau of Mines, 300 feet from the path of the highway.

Highway opponents say road construction near the spring could damage its natural flow. MnDOT's Kent Barnard says that likely won't happen.
Barnard: MnDOT is going to take every effort to make sure that they hydrology and the flow of water to the springs is not disrupted during construction. If somthing were to happen, we would stop and have to reassess and possibly make changes. We are confident, however, that we are not going to be disrupting the spring and we do share their concern that it be left intact as it is.
Anderson says the Mendota Dakota are also hoping the land around the spring can be given to Native Americans for use as a cultural center.