The DNR’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) is concerned about a road project just west of Mille Lacs in Crow Wing and Aitkin Counties.
Terry Kemper, the Band’s Assistant Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, said the Band heard about the project from the Army Corps of Engineers, who were brought in due to the waterways crossed by the road.
The counties want to move 215th St. eight feet, which will likely result in disturbance of artifacts and/or remains, according to Terry. A map of the area created by archaeologist Jacob Brower in 1900 shows the area dotted with 11 mounds. Trails joined Round Lake to Mille Lacs and Borden Lake.
It’s possible that those mounds were already disturbed when the road was originally built. From the Tribal perspective, Terry said, it would be better to leave the road where it is and build on top of it rather than disturb what lies beneath the existing road.
When Hwy. 169 was built, many of those mounds were disturbed, bulldozed and used for ll. “Highway 169 is full of our bones,” said Terry. “All the way from the junction of 27 up past Garrison.”
“These are sensitive areas. Even if they’ve been bulldozed over, they’re still historical to us.”
The Mille Lacs Band is being proactive on the issue in hopes of avoiding what happened in Duluth in May and June, when a tribal graveyard was disturbed during reconstruction of Hwy. 23. The Fond du Lac Band was aware of the presence of the grave- yard there, but the Band was not consulted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation before construction commenced. A historian who knew of the graveyard noticed the construction while driving past the site and informed the Band. Construction was halted May 26. The remains were found June 6.
MnDOT has since apologized, but the damage cannot be undone. Fond du Lac Chairman Kevin Leecy was quoted in the Duluth New Tribune: “Do I believe our ancestors are spread all over the road somewhere? Probably,” he said solemnly. “But we can’t change that now. What we can change is that this doesn’t happen again... If I were to drive a backhoe through your cemetery, I would be arrested, I would be in jail. That’s the bottom line.”
Minnesota Statute 307.08 protects all human skeletal re- mains and known burial sites, even on private land. It’s a felony to intentionally disturb those sites. When remains are discovered, the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council and State Archaeologist are brought in to determine the course of action.
When a federal project might impact a state or tribal historic site, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act is triggered, which means the State and/or Tribal Historic Preservation Office needs to be notified and brought in to consult.