Indigenous high school students help restore the former St. Paul dump to its original holy land

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ST. PAUL, Min. On Wednesday, just over a dozen Native American high school students spent the day along the Mississippi River in St. Paul, nurturing the land and getting in touch with their culture.

It was led by Migizi, a non-profit organization focused on development and continuing education for Indigenous youth in the Twin Cities.

Their goal was to restore and honor the holy land it once was. For decades it was an unofficial city dump and a frequent target of vandalism. However, since 2013, the Indigenous-led Lower Phalen Creek Project has been working to restore the area.

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To many, the 27 acres is known as the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. But to the indigenous people it is known as Wakan Tipi. Next year they will also open the Wakan Tipi Center on the property.

On Thursday, the Migizi group laid down seeds of several native prairie grasses to revitalize the area.

“There are these sacred places that we still need to hold sacred,” said Belen Dominguez-Adan, a student at El Colegio High School, who participated in the restoration efforts with her grandmother. “I hope more trees are planted, more are planted, and the earth is taken care of as it should be.”

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Another part of the restoration of the Lower Phalen Creek Project is land management of the ancient burial mounds. They have been in Indian Mounds Park for thousands of years and in the last decade they have become untouched and overgrown.

“I’m here to pay my respects to my relatives,” said Franky Jackson, a Dakota Cultural Resource Specialist, who was there to teach the students the importance of this country.

Jackson and other elders led the teens as they put prayer bands on the fence around the ancient burial mounds. Each prayer tie contains tobacco, which their ancestors used as a medicinal herb.

“We live in a time when people are moving back to reconnect, just to be closer to their homeland,” Jackson said.

The prayer bands are a physical way to show their presence on these lands.

“I’d like people to know we’re not gone, we’re still here,” Dominguez-Adan said.

Migizi leads several youth field trips throughout the year to learn more about Minnesota Native culture. They also offer paid internships.

Click here for more information about Migizi and click here for more information about the Lower Phalen Creek Project.

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