Prairie Island Indian Community and City of Red Wing

The Bluff That's Bridging Two Communities

The issue of painting on He Mni Can [Heh-Meh-NEE-Cha] - Barn Bluff is more than a simple graffiti issue. Today the bluff is becoming a place of healing and connection between the Red Wing community and Prairie Island Indian Community (PIIC), and that is the main reason this issue is significant.

People from all walks of life feel a strong connection to the bluff, and each person has his or her own story, memory, or feeling about this place. But in 2016, as the City worked on the plan for the bluff’s future, we learned—and finally began to understand—how sacred the bluff is to the Mdewakanton Dakota people of the Prairie Island Indian Community. This is a crucial fact that must not be ignored any longer.

The bluff has already been harmed extensively by quarrying in the late 1800s and early 1900s, rebuilding the bridge in the late 1950s, and constructing and removing stairs on the western side of the bluff from downtown.

The Dakota and other tribes have long held ceremonies and rituals on the bluff and consider it sacred ground. Dakota feel the same way about this bluff as western cultures feel about their cemeteries and churches. Non-native people also revere the bluff in personal ways. It’s time now to create a place where all people can honor, respect, and enjoy the space. As tribal member Nicky Buck says, “We want this to be a place for everybody to go and call their special place.” 

Today, the connection between Prairie Island Indian Community and the City of Red Wing is growing stronger, and both view this bluff as a positive way forward. In the next two years, you’ll see a few improvements on the bluff, all done under the guiding principles of Heal, Sustain, Educate, and Honor—principles that have been in place since 2016. PIIC and the City will collaborate to plan a new interpretive area for the bluff, shift sections of trails to respect historic archeology, and share native history and culture with all who visit the bluff. One step two years ago was renaming Barn Bluff to include its Dakota name, He Mni Can, pronounced Heh-Meh-NEE-Cha, meaning hill, water, wood.

To celebrate the path ahead, Prairie Island Indian Community and the City of Red Wing held a community hike and ceremony on Tuesday, October 16 at 3:30 p.m. More than 100 people attended. Tribal Council President Shelley Buck welcomed attendees and spoke of a positive future between the two communities. Spiritual leader Art Owen told of the bluff's history and said a special prayer. Mayor Sean Dowse presented PIIC leaders with a gift, a handcrafted wooden bowl whose features signify hill, water, wood and the joining of two communities. Attendees hiked the bluff and many learned along the way of the bluff's history and native, edible plants. Afterward, everyone enjoyed buffalo chili and herbal tea (with rose hips and bergemot from the bluff). 

Multiple future events are being planned with the City of Red Wing and Prairie Island Indian Community. Both are working together on a public art project called “If This Bluff Could Talk,” which will encompass a variety of art forms to tell stories about the bluff from different cultural backgrounds and experiences. Both will be planning future improvements for the bluff that start in summer 2019. And both are planning multiple community events to bring people together and learn from each other. 

If you have more questions, please contact Mayor Sean Dowse, at sean.dowse@ci.red-wing.mn.us or Community Engagement Specialist Michelle Leise at michelle.leise@ci.red-wing.mn.us

You can find more on the graffiti issue and its background, history, public feedback, and research here: http://www.red-wing.org/800/Graffiti-Policy-Discussion.