Tribe: Park not recreational land

Proposed transfer still ‘early in the process,’ state agencies say

Photo by Deb Gau More than 200 people gathered at Minnesota West Community and Technical College Wednesday night to ask questions about the proposed transfer of Upper Sioux Agency State Park land to the Upper Sioux Community. Pictured is Upper Sioux Community Tribal Chairman Kevin Jensvold addressing the crowd.

GRANITE FALLS — People crammed into a cafeteria in Granite Falls Wednesday night in order to learn more about a proposal to transfer ownership of the Upper Sioux Agency State Park lands to the Upper Sioux Community. While a panel of speakers took questions and comments for more than two hours, they said there were still a lot of details about the proposed transfer that will need to be worked out.

“We are early in this process. There’s a lot that we do not know,” said David Kelliher, director of government relations for the Minnesota Historical Society.

Members of the public at the meeting spoke out both in support of the land transfer, and questioning it. Some audience members also criticized what they said was a lack of communication about the land transfer proposal.

This spring, a pair of bills have been introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate that would potentially start the process to transfer ownership of Upper Sioux Agency State Park lands to the Upper Sioux Community.

On Wednesday, State Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, and Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, moderated a community meeting on the proposal at the campus of Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Granite Falls.

“This is to answer questions. People have a lot of questions, that are coming to my office and Chris’ office wondering what’s going on, wondering about this transition, what’s been decided and things like that,” Dahms said.

Upper Sioux Community Tribal Chairman Kevin Jensvold, and DNR Southern Region Director Scott Roemhildt, said the request to transfer the state park land to the Upper Sioux Community was not new.

“One thing I think it’s important to know is that in the 11 years that I’ve been meeting with the Upper Sioux Community, each year Chairman Jensvold has requested that Upper Sioux Agency State Park be returned to the Yellow Medicine People of the Upper Sioux Community,” Roemhildt said.

Jensvold said Upper Sioux Community members faced access barriers to the state park for spiritual or ceremonial purposes.

“And that set wrong, because the context of that park was historic tribal treaty land,” Jensvold said.

“These are historic problems. I don’t know anybody in here who can raise their hand to say they have to pay to go visit their relatives’ graves. I don’t see anybody in here, you know, having that difficulty that this park poses. That was the initial catalyst,” he said. Other factors like the deterioration of the park’s interpretive center and the decommissioning of the main road through the park led the Upper Sioux Community to take the request to the state Legislature, Jensvold said.

Roemhildt said the bills at the Minnesota House and Senate would get the process of looking at a land transfer started.

“Our understanding is that those are process bills. One of the things that they require is that the DNR submit a report by December 15, and one of the things that report needs to do is identify any obstacles to transferring the park, along with possible legislative solutions to those obstacles,” he said. “And so in the coming months, that’s going to be one of our responsibilities, and along with that we’re going to be looking at public engagement and speaking to different groups that have interests with the park. While we don’t have that in place yet just because things have been moving quickly, it’s something that we plan to do.”

Ann Pierce, parks and trails division director for the Minnesota DNR, said the DNR has been exploring what a land transfer process for the park would be like.

“There are a number of people, a number of groups that are involved in the process for transferring land like this, and that would include the federal government, the state Legislature, the Minnesota Historical Society, the Department of Natural Resources,” Pierce said.

Jensvold said $5.3 million was also being requested on behalf of the state of Minnesota to create replacement recreation area for the park.

“The $5.3 million that is in the bill would allow us to use that money to help replace recreational values that the park holds, and then there is also the value of the land. And so that is a piece that is in the bill, and that is a process that we will work through,” Pierce said.

“As a tribe, we do not believe that place should be viewed as recreational land,” Jensvold said of the current state park. “It is a very solemn, historic and sacred piece of land that our people have lived on and occupied for 10,000 years. And look, what occurred in 1862 on that piece of land, it was neither pretty, it was neither human-like, and it was a very, very important time in history that shaped where we’re at today.”

Several members of the public asked if any of the current park land or resources would be accessible to people outside the Upper Sioux Community if the bills pass.

“That’s one of the questions that’s been posed many, many times to us,” Jensvold said. “As a tribal council, we haven’t really come to terms with the potential that exists in front of us at the moment. But we do know this — it will be treated in a respectful and solemn manner, for all peoples to remember what occurred there.”

Others audience members asked where the state would potentially create replacement park land.

“That is what our engagement process will look at,” Pierce said. “We have kind of a list of what’s in the area and what might be added on to, things like that. But that is what that public engagement process will look at, is where we can recreate that.”


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