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Authored by Carrie Cox with contributions by Duncan Krisa. Edited by Laura Levitt
Located in Dakota County, MN, Pilot Knob, or Oheyawahi as it is known by the Dakota, is an easily recognizable region of elevated terrain at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. Located near what is modern-day Minneapolis, Pilot Knob is a religiously and culturally significant site to the Dakota and other tribes. The Dakota used Oheyawahi for Medicine Ceremonies and gatherings to pray to the great being Unktehi. They also used it as a burial ground. In 2002, Minnstar Builders, a contracting company, submitted a proposal to the City of Mendota Heights to purchase privately owned land at Pilot Knob and develop a 157-townhouse subdivision. The Dakota community was concerned about access to their sacred site and the treatment of the remains of their ancestors buried on the hill. For this reason, they used legal tools and garnered public support from the local community in order to block the development of the hill. Eventually, they worked with a private conservation group to buy the land and create a land trust controlled by the City of Mendota Heights. Ultimately, Pilot Knob became a multi-use open space guaranteeing access for Native People’s religious use as well as public enjoyment. This is an impressive case of a successful campaign to protect a Native sacred sight in an urban area.