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Native-led nonprofit is restoring Dakota land

The Lower Phalen Creek Project is working to restore and protect sacred Dakota land in St. Paul’s East Side. The project was started in 1997 by a group of citizen activists to clean up the area surrounding Wakan Tipi - or “Carvers’ Cave” - which had become a city dumping ground.

“Years ago, our people utilized the cave right below Indian Mounds Park as part of our mortuary or burial practices,” explained Franky Jackson, LPCP’s Dakota Cultural Resource Specialist. “Going all the way back to the 1700s, Jonathan Carver recorded in great detail the burial practices, how the Dakota people would ceremony in the caves there at Wakan Tipi for four days, and then they would take their relatives up to the burial mounds up top and inter them into the burial mounds. So that’s one reason why the site is so significant to the Dakota people. Not only was it part of our burial practices, but more recently, Dakotas have been heavily involved in restoring the site. There's been great efforts to restore not only the plant life, but our connection to that site as well.”

Lower Phalen Creek Project is also working to “daylight” (i.e. resurface) sections of Phalen Creek that have been buried by construction. LPCP also offers a number of programs: volunteer restoration, environmental education, Dakota storytelling and plant medicine workshops. Jackson says teaching indigenous practices helps both to heal the land AND the diverse communities who live there.

“Reclaiming land space, or landscape, is a big objective of the project,” he said. “And helping people connect to the landscape is another objective of our organization. But more importantly, helping develop space where we can have a cross-cultural exchange, not only amongst Native American and non-native people, but you know, St. Paul is a very diverse community and a diverse place. So some of the envisioning is creating space for us to come together to have various types of cultural programming so we can have that cross-cultural exchange.”

The Lower Phalen Creek Project recently broke ground on the Wakan Tipi Cultural Center. The Center will serve as an intergenerational gathering place, connecting people to the sacred landscape through immersive experiences in Daḳota history and culture.

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