Red Wing moves dog park off Indigenous burial ground

RED WING, Minn. — The city of Red Wing is moving its longtime dog park from A.P. Anderson Park to a new location after learning the place for dogs to play sat on a Native American burial ground.

“We don’t let dogs in our cemeteries,” said Red Wing Mayor Mark Wilson. “But we didn’t know.”

Wilson said it was a matter of being educated.

A city committee holds quarterly meetings with representatives of the Prairie Island Indian Community, which once owned and occupied the land on which the city of Red Wing sits. During a recent meeting, Wilson said, PIIC representatives shared the news.

In a letter dated Nov. 1, 2023, Noah White, tribal historic preservation officer for PIIC, said the tribe brought its concerns to the city in a meeting last August. The letter noted that records of effigy mounds at the site date back to an 1885 survey. While many mounds on the site have been disturbed and/or destroyed, the site — which encompasses much of the overall park space — still has many mounds with historical significance.

White’s letter noted that some playground equipment installed in the 1960s, as well as more recent playground equipment, will be removed or simply not replaced once the equipment reaches the end of its lifespan. The dog park, however, is a more immediate concern.

“(The) City agreed to immediately plan for removal of the dog park,” White noted.

Wilson said it was just a matter of learning where sites sacred to the tribe exist and being respectful.

“They were here and we moved in,” Wilson said, taking a historical look at the use of the land. “Everyone needs to be educated on their histories and culture.”

He cited several examples in recent years that show a change in attitude among the city. For example, from the 1950s onward, groups would often paint messages onto the side of He Mni Can-Barn Bluff. But in 2018, the city adopted the policy to stop allowing messages on the side of the rock face that overlooks Main Street and downtown Red Wing. More recently, Red Wing Public Schools has started teaching the Dakota language, and the city supported the painting of a new mural that celebrates the history of the Dakota people.

Wilson said the city will make a temporary dog park at the nearby athletic fields, but a permanent dog park site will be selected in the coming months to be installed next spring or summer.

In the meantime, the city is working with the Tribal Historical Preservation Office to ensure construction projects around town are respectful of any historical Indigenous sites. For example, a potential aquaponics walleye farm at U.S. 61 and Goodhue County Road 19 is currently being reviewed.

“We want to make sure there are no artifacts we’ll disturb there,” Wilson said.

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