Recovering a Sacred Place

Indian Mounds

Indian Mounds

St. Paul, Minnesota

The landscape known as Indian Mounds is a sacred burial place – a cemetery built by ancestors of living people. Over time, it was altered to function as a public park. We collaborated with tribal representatives and city staff to address a difficult challenge: how to change a community’s perspective regarding this landscape to one that is informed, empathetic, and respectful of its ongoing importance to Indigenous peoples.

Our Cultural Landscape Study and Messaging Plan presents a comprehensive framework for acknowledging the site’s sanctity and the Indigenous people whose ancestors are buried there. It envisions the gradual replacement of recreational aspects with features that support contemplation, prayer, and spiritual gatherings by the people for whom the landscape is sacred.

Recovering a Sacred Place
Bottom line, it’s our ancient burial site, it’s our sacred site, we should have control of that.
A watercolor painting of people in a canoe coming towards a small village on the shore.
1840 watercolor painting by Seth Eastman showing his version of the village of Kap’óža and a burial ground on the cliff above the river (Minnesota Historical Society)

This Place Is Not a Park

The Indigenous burial ground currently called Indian Mounds Regional Park has been a center of religious practice for over a thousand years. When the City of Saint Paul established a park at this location in 1892, the connections of Indigenous peoples to the sacred site were neither understood nor valued.

A photo of a field with Minneapolis/St. Paul in the distance.

Building Bridges

Our approach emphasized the inclusion of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers in addition to city staff and neighboring community members. We sought to foster relationships between the people who are culturally connected to the landscape and the city that maintains it.

Diagram showing the long-term treatment plan for the landscape.

A Vision for the Future

The plan is guided by Mitákuye Ows’in (We Are All Connected), a worldview reflecting the interconnectedness of people, land, water, sky, animals, and plants. The landscape will provide a place for reverence, remembrance, and healing that protects, honors, and acknowledges the sacredness of the place.

A graphic showing different plants and animals that live in this area.

Returning Native Plantings

Blufftops along the Mississippi River were once ecologically rich prairies and forests. Our design converts areas of pavement and mown lawn into native plant communities that will create animal habitat and filter groundwater. We selected plants with cultural meaning for associated tribes.

A graphic listing Native American tribes who consulted on this project.

A Model for Collaboration

Our work at Indian Mounds establishes a platform for the inclusion of Indigenous communities in decision-making about sites that are significant to them. Many sites sacred to Indigenous peoples have suffered similar fates, and tribes must have a say in their future development.

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