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He Mni Can-Barn Bluff: What happens now?

Mayor Sean Dowse's initiatives include Red Wing 2040, a two-year visions process he says will shape the city's Comprehensive Plan.

This is a monthly series of city of Red Wing Q&A. For more questions and answers, go to the City's web site at If you have an inquiry, call 651-385-3608 or connect via Facebook at 

Q: Exactly what did the City Council vote on regarding He Mni Can-Barn Bluff and what does it mean?

A: Thank you for the question. Council members voted unanimously on Sep. 10, 2018, to prohibit paint or graffiti on the western rock face of He Mni Can-Barn Bluff. The city already has a graffiti policy that covers all public and private property, and the council simply recommitted to enforcing the law, including at that particular spot. According to the current policy, graffiti is defined as "any writing, printing, mark, sign, symbol, figure, design, inscription, or other drawing scratched, scrawled, printed, drawn, or otherwise placed on any natural edifice, surface of a building, wall, sidewalk, sign, phone pole or train pole or any permanent structure on public or private property which has the effect of defacing the property."

For decades the graffiti policy has covered privately owned property like homes, garages, and businesses, and publicly owned property such as signs, benches, park pavilions, and other bluff walls. However, for almost 60 years the city has not actively enforced the policy on this particular rock wall. That now will change.

Why did the bluff painting become such a big issue?

The issue of painting on He Mni Can-Barn Bluff is more than a simple graffiti issue. Today the bluff is becoming a place of healing and connection between the Red Wing community and Prairie Island Indian Community, and that is the main reason this issue is significant.

People from all walks of life feel a strong connection to the bluff, and each person has his or her own story, memory, or feeling about this place. But in 2016, as the City worked on the plan for the bluff's future, we learned — and finally began to understand — how sacred the bluff is to the Mdewakanton Dakota people of the Prairie Island Indian Community. This is a crucial fact that must not be ignored any longer.

The bluff has already been harmed extensively by quarrying in the late 1800s and early 1900s, rebuilding the bridge in the late 1950s, and constructing and removing stairs on the western side of the bluff from downtown.

The Dakota and other tribes have long held ceremonies and rituals on the bluff and consider it sacred ground. Dakota feel the same way about this bluff as western cultures feel about their cemeteries and churches. Non-native people also revere the bluff in personal ways. It's time now to create a place where all people can honor, respect, and enjoy the space. As tribal member Nicky Buck says, "We want this to be a place for everybody to go and call their special place."

Today, the connection between Prairie Island Indian Community and the city of Red Wing is growing stronger, and both view this bluff as a positive way forward. In the next two years, you'll see a few improvements on the bluff, all done under the guiding principles of heal, sustain, educate, and honor — principles that have been in place since 2016. Prairie Island Indian Community and the city will collaborate to plan a new interpretive area for the bluff, shift sections of trails to respect historic archeology, and share native history and culture with all who visit the bluff.

One step two years ago was renaming Barn Bluff to include its Dakota name, He Mni Can, pronounced Heh-Meh-NEE-Cha, meaning hill, water, wood.

To celebrate the path ahead, Prairie Island Indian Community and the city of Red Wing are inviting everyone from both communities to hike up He Mni Can-Barn Bluff at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16. The event will feature a native ceremony on the bluff and a light meal at the end of the hike.

In addition, the two communities are working together on a public art project called "If This Bluff Could Talk," which will encompass a variety of art forms to tell stories about the bluff from different cultural backgrounds and experiences.

When will enforcement of the policy start?

City staff will be covering the painted area before the weather gets too cold, sometime in October. As with all graffiti, the Public Works Department will begin covering any future graffiti with bluff-colored paint within 48 hours. If caught and convicted, the person(s) responsible will pay all costs associated with cleaning up the graffiti.

City staff is currently researching ways to possibly remove all paint and bring the rock back to its natural state, but this decision will be made later based on cost and a Council decision.

Police will start enforcing park hours on the bluff, as well. The bluff closes at 10:30 p.m. This rule covers all city parks, including bluff parks like He Mni Can-Barn Bluff.

If you have more questions, please contact me, Mayor Sean Dowse, at

You can find more on this topic's background, history, public feedback, and research here: