Bill to transfer state parkland to Upper Sioux Community clears two Minnesota Senate committees – West Central Tribune

ST. PAUL – Legislation to return ancestral lands to the Upper Sioux community near Granite Falls faced some opposition at Minnesota Senate hearings last week.

Legislation would transfer more than 1,000 acres in Upper Sioux Agency State Park to the Upper Sioux Community, and the park would be closed. The land would be transferred to the municipality free of charge.

A financial report released this week shows that the cost to the state of fully transferring the land and purchasing land for a new park is estimated at nearly $6 million.

There is no date yet for the park to close or for the land transfer. It could take several years. The Financial Report does not include a discussion of the cost of developing facilities, roads and trails at a new park.

In a hearing Tuesday, the Minnesota Senate Environment, Climate and Legacy Committee referred the bill to the Transportation Committee for further consideration in a split vote.

State Senator Andrew Lang

Minnesota Legislature

On Friday, the Transportation Committee passed an amendment that provides $1.2 million for fiscal 2024, which begins July 1.

The funds would cover costs associated with preparing for the transfer, including removing the Yellow Medicine River Bridge and a section of former State Highway 67 near the park. The road has been damaged – resulting in the rerouting of part of Highway 67 to avoid the outage area – and the bridge is in danger due to ground movement in the area.

The committee referred the bill back to the Environment, Climate and Legacy Committee.

Upper Sioux tribe leader Kevin Jensvold has testified at committee hearings about the country’s history of starvation and genocide. When promised government payments were not delivered to the Dakota on time, people starved.

The park’s land was the scene of battles in the US-Dakota War of 1862.

The ancestral land has many burial sites and other places sacred to its people, Jensvold said.

He said he had spoken and asked about the land transfer for 18 years since he became chairman.

The Environment, Climate and Legacy Committee hearing brought some harsh comments on the plan.

Many came from Senator Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, who is familiar with the Minnesota River Valley where the park is located.

Lang noted that some who use the park or live nearby had not heard of the legislation before it was introduced.

Lang said he heard about the proposed move from a local reporter, and he informed Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, who represents the park.

“I have a problem with it if it’s not done with full transparency,” he said.

He would have preferred, “They would have come up to me and said we’ve worked with the City of Granite Falls, we’ve worked with the agency (Department of Natural Resources), we’ve worked with the tribe, and we all agree ‘ he called.

At Sen. Steve Green, R-Fosston’s suggestion that the park doesn’t need to be replaced, Lang said, “I think it needs to be replaced.” Green had said he believed the state had too much public land.

DNR Assistant Commissioner Bob Meier also said federal law would dictate that recreational facilities at the park be replaced.

Upper Sioux Agency State Park IMG_5057.JPG
Upper Sioux Agency State Park is located at the confluence of the Yellow Medicine and Minnesota Rivers. A hiking trail in the park leads to this scenic view of the Yellow Medicine River.

West Central Tribune file photo

Lang said he understands the importance of the land to the Upper Sioux community but said the state would give up $4 million worth of historically significant land.

Lang said he has spent many hours working with others to develop campgrounds and trails in the river valley, and that the state has spent millions developing recreational opportunities there.

Land called the river valley a “gem” in southwest Minnesota. “When you come off the prairie and look down into the river valley,” he said, “you don’t realize it’s there until you’re there.”

The bill’s author, DFL-New Brighton Senator Mary Kunesh, said she was upset by Lang’s stance on the country.

“These are holy lands,” she said. “If it’s a battlefield; Honestly, should it be used for recreation? People died there.”

Glencoe’s Stephanie Chappell testified at the first hearing of the week and filed a written statement for the second. She said she spoke on behalf of the descendants of white settlers who also died in the War of 1862.

“The whole area is burial ground,” she said. Hundreds of European Americans are buried there in unmarked graves.

If the land is given to the Upper Sioux community, descendants may not be able to honor their ancestors on the land, she said.

A second objection to the land transfer was contained in a statement filed with the Transportation Committee by Curtis Dahlin of Roseville. He urged that “all burials” in the country be recognized and accessible to people wishing to pay their respects.

“All graves are equally important, regardless of the person’s race,” he wrote.

Linda Vanderwerf

In her 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked for several Minnesota newspapers, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. She previously worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for almost 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached by email: [email protected] or by phone at 320-214-4340


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