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City of Newport offers riverside site for contested Red Rock

The Red Rock is currently at the Newport United Methodist Church. Katie Nelson / RiverTown Multimedia

The debate over the future home of the historic Red Rock continues, with Newport offering up a new permanent home for the sacred object in its own backyard.

The Red Rock is currently at Newport United Methodist Church, 1596 11th Ave., where it has been since it was brought back by the Plymouth-based Red Rock Camp Association in 1964.

Methodist Bishop Bruce Ough made the announcement to return the Red Rock to Minnesota Dakota communities at a national conference last March, but no decisions about locations have been made yet.

"We see it as an act of reconciliation and recognition of past injustice," UMC pastor Linda Gesling said. "We need to acknowledge past injustice."

The city council passed a resolution at the Oct. 19 meeting offering a spot for the Red Rock — also known as Eyah Shah or In-Yan Sa — between the Mississippi River and Cedar Lane.

"The resolution shows how the community feels about the rock and we recognize its importance, and that we would really like to have it stay here in Newport near its original setting," City Administrator Deb Hill said. Dakota leaders have been considering different settings for permanent placement of the Red Rock, including the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary in St. Paul.

The city owns a number of parcels near the levee along the river and Cedar Lane, just north of 16th Street, that they are working on turning into parkspace. Hill said they will work with a city planner to draft a master plan for the new recreation area.

"We would like to offer up a site of their choosing to our soon to be new ... levee park, which is the closest public area from the original site where the rock actually originated from," she said.

Mayor Dan Lund said he's met with some tribal communities who have been considering the Red Rock's future, discussing the potential location with them.

"A lot of that culture was destroyed and I'd be proud to bring some of that back to Newport," he said.

Facilitating discussion

Gesling said conversations surrounding the Red Rock have been ongoing within the church since long before she came to Newport in 2015.

"It has always been the intention of the church ... to have some kind of community conversation around it," she said.

Gesling said there will be a gathering at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 19, after the 9:30 worship service, in the church fellowship hall with members of the Mendota Mdewakanton tribal community.

There will have a display about Mendota's Dakota history and tribal and United Methodist leaders will be available for a discussion about the Red Rock.

It will be open to the public.

The worship service that day will concentrate on developing understanding and building relationships, the same themes that Gesling said are at play in the discussions surrounding the future placement of the Red Rock.

She noted that the Mendota Mdewakanton tribal community being at the service does not mean they are the only Dakota group involved with discussions on the Red Rock. Gesling said they want "to try and facilitate as broad a discussion as possible," with as many of the stakeholders as possible.

"It's not about a decision being made, it's about developing ongoing relations," she said.

As the Red Rock has been special for many in Newport as well, Gesling said once it has moved locations, they will discuss adding a plaque or bench in its place.

"Many people in the church have stories around it," she said. "We're not going to forget (that) history either."

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