Jim Anderson insists he’s not a radical.
He says his protest â€” taking up residence inside a doomed community center â€” is much more complex and goes well beyond the walls of the rented two-story house along Sibley Memorial Highway in Mendota.
“We’re just tired of being pushed out of our places,” said Anderson, a cultural chairman for the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community, whose members consider the area their birthplace.
On Saturday, Anderson moved into the house that for the past five years has served as the community’s office and gathering space, despite a plan by a nearby restaurant to tear it down for extra parking.
“This is our sacred site that we have built up,” said Anderson, who also moved in his wife and their 2-year-old daughter. “And they want to tar over it for parking for a damn bar?”
Curtis LaClaire, tribal council chairman, said the property owners notified the community this month that a deal has been reached with Axel’s River Grille and that the tribe has until the end of March to vacate the house. The community has been on a month-to-month lease for several months.
Last week, the property owners, Ron and Mary Ann Buelow and their son, Dan, extended the time they could stay through April, LaClaire said.
Anderson said his stance is not against the Buelow family and Axel’s. He is trying to raise awareness of the stalled efforts of the Mendota Dakota community to obtain federal recognition.
“This is a way for
the government to finally recognize that they owe the Mendota Dakota people a place here,” he said, adding that the community’s effort to be recognized has been going on for several years. “Our creation stories come from Mendota â€” this is our Garden of Eden â€” and we have nothing.”LaClaire also said he’s having a hard time pointing fingers at the Buelows.
Shortly before the community’s five-year, $60,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation expired late last year, the Buelows
reduced their rent from $1,200 to $800 per month. They also offered the community the chance to buy the property first, LaClaire said.The $15 monthly dues from the 250-member community are not enough to pay the rent, utilities and other expenses, he said.
“I don’t have hard feelings against (the Buelows),” he said. “No matter how we feel, what it comes down to is it’s their property and they can do what they want to with it.”
Anderson acknowledges that he has a tough fight on his hands.
With federal recognition comes access to health care, education and money for operating tribal government and courts. But it also opens opportunities for casinos and gaming.
Safety Concern / On any given weekend, tiny Mendota swells with visitors who patronize Axel’s, Lucky 13 Pub and VFW Post 6690. Cars line both sides of Sibley Memorial Highway.
The city has been dealing with a lack of parking for some time, Mayor Brian Mielke said.
“It’s almost becoming a safety concern,” he said.
The lot is not just about added convenience for Axel’s customers, said Dave Walia, vice president of operations for Axel’s.
Axel’s current parking lot, next to the Dakota community’s space, doesn’t have enough spots according to the city of Mendota’s codes, Walia said. So the company started leasing parking space from the VFW, across from the restaurant, shortly after buying the restaurant in April 2008.
“What we’re faced with is our patrons having to cross a busy highway,”
he said.Walia would not disclose the agreed-upon purchase price. Edina Realty’s website recently listed the house and the 12,100-square-foot lot at $180,000.
The lot could provide 24 more parking spaces.
Dan Buelow said the deal with Nath Cos., which owns three Axel’s locations, came after the house was on the market for nearly a year and after approaching the Mendota Dakotas about their interest in renting to own or buying the property outright.
He said he was surprised to learn Anderson moved into the house.
“The tribe was renting this property for many years, and they’ve been excellent tenants and we’ve had a great relationship with them, and we’ve done everything we could to work with them,” he said. “Unfortunately, they were unable to put something together. I would like nothing more for them to be able to stay in the community, and I hope they can.”
Obstacles To Recognition / Anderson acknowledged that the house, which was built in 1880, is in bad shape.
It was without running water for several months until Monday, when Anderson fixed a pump on the old well.
“The roof leaks, and it’s drafty. But this is where people find us,” he said.
An attorney in the city has agreed to let the community use a 100-square-foot office space for tribal council meetings, LaClaire said. Membership meetings could be held at the VFW.
“It’s not the ideal situation, but it allows us to keep operating in Mendota, which is what we’ve wanted all along,” LaClaire said.
Both money and the government’s recognition process â€” which demands showing continued existence from Day 1 until the present â€” have hampered the community’s effort, Vice Chairman Jim Albrecht said.
Also, in order to get federal recognition, the tribe has to have a land base in federal trust, he said. Henry Sibley had 10 acres set aside in the mid-1800s for the Dakota people, he said, but the petition for additional money for the land never went through Congress.
“The speculation was the land was too valuable because it is so close to the cities,” Albrecht said.
LaClaire said the tribal council supports Anderson’s idea of “standing up for the house â€” but the way he’s doing it, we have mixed feelings.”
In the late 1990s, Anderson spent 17 straight months at an encampment with other protesters who opposed the Minnesota 55 re-route, which threatened a cold-water spring south of Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis. He was also among those who in the mid-2000s preserved historic Pilot Knob hill in nearby Mendota Heights by staving off a proposed condo development.
He said he “has no choice” but to take another stand.
“I had to do this, and it almost makes me cry because I shouldn’t have to do this to get our point across,” he said. “We want the government to do what’s right. We want justice for a change for our Dakota community here.”
Nick Ferraro can be reached at 651-228-2173.