Tribal group angered Pioneer Press hid medallion on St. Paul land considered sacred

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Members of a Native American nonprofit in St. Paul say they feel disrespected by the city's daily newspaper for hiding its annual Treasure Hunt medallion in a nature sanctuary east of downtown that the group manages and considers sacred land.

"I hate to make the comparison, but it's like basically digging around in a church," said Jenna Grey Eagle, an environmental justice and stewardship programs manager for the nonprofit, Wakan Tipi Awanyankapi. "It's strictly just disrespect."

The Pioneer Press has held its annual Treasure Hunt since the 1950s, connected to the city's longstanding Winter Carnival. Organizers select a park and hide the medallion, typically burying it in the snow. This year they hid the medallion in Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, which contains Wakan Tipi Cave.

Lori Swanson, a marketing consultant who directs the Treasure Hunt, said in a follow-up Pioneer Press article that the sanctuary will be off-limits for future hunts.

"We respect history, culture and everybody who cares about it, and we take concerns about the Pioneer Press Treasure Hunt seriously," Swanson said.

Pioneer Press Editor Mike Burbach declined to comment on the controversy when reached by phone Monday afternoon.

Andy Rodriguez, St. Paul's Parks and Recreation director, said in a statement that the location picked for the medallion to be hidden is "not in alignment with our valued partnership with Wakan Tipi."

He added that while the parks department is supportive of the annual event, the city is not told of the medallion location in advance.

The cave's name, Wakan Tipi, means "Dwelling place of the sacred." It sits below a number of Dakota ancestral burial mounds on a bluff.

Two brothers found the medallion midday on Saturday, encased in a clear plastic pyramid, inside a small plastic box. This is the first time the medallion has been hidden at Bruce Vento. The sanctuary is named in honor of a former St. Paul congressman.

The winners got the full $10,000 award for finding the medallion, which was hidden on a patch of land between the two most southeasterly ponds in the park, according to an article in the Pioneer Press.

The medallion was not located next to the sacred cave, which is gated off. But Grey Eagle and others said it was still disrespectful.

"Just because they started calling it a park and treating it as a park, people don't realize this is a resting place for people and should be treated with respect," said Strong Buffalo, who runs the Indigenous nonprofit Oyate Hotanin.

Gabby Menomin,the restoration manager for Wakan Tipi Awanyankapi, said it was "really disappointing" when she found out about the sanctuary's selection for the treasure hunt.

"It really came as a surprise to all of us," she said.

Menomin also was critical of the selection from an environmental standpoint, noting that the nonprofit has been working on habitat restoration efforts there.