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Death of a Mound
Politics and Human Remains in Minnesota
-January 13, 2005-
Messages from the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council
Several days before Christmas 2004, Joe Day, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC) in Bemidji, made a phone call to the office of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community (MMDC). He left a message saying that he had a collection of documents assembled in answer to an information request made earlier by the MMDC and offered to deliver these documents. The only catch was that it would cost $465.50 to get them.
What was in the documents and why it cost what it did to get them is yet another development in a story that began as an attempt to understand the apparent destruction of a burial mound in Bloomington, Minnesota, but has also, by necessity, become an attempt to understand the MIAC. While the documents do not give us all the details about the Bloomington burial mounds, they do provide useful cultural data about the MIAC. They tell the story of what appears to be a secretive state agency, jealous of its prerogatives, resistant to public oversight, unwilling to share information, poor at recording its decision-making processes, and disorganized in its record-keeping. This is the same agency that has the power in Minnesota to decide whether Indian burial places are preserved or destroyed.
As described in earlier parts of this series, public attention was first directed to the excavation of a burial site a few blocks from the Mall of America, in August 2004, when members of the MMDC and supporters began holding a vigil at the excavation. In August the MIAC provided information that only one set of human remains had been found at the site. In mid-September, the MMDC ended its vigil. Later the community received information suggesting that possibly dozens of human remains were at the site and were being relocated to a mound manufactured by archaeologists in 1998 on property owned by the Ceridian Corporation across the road from the current excavation.
At that point the MMDC began to seek information on just what was being found at the site. Letters were written to several state agencies, asking for data on the current Bloomington project and the 1998 Ceridian project. These requests were made under the Minnesota Data Practices Act, the equivalent of the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Two of the agencies, the Office of State Archaeologist (OSA) and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) responded quickly, inviting MMDC to examine their records. Both agencies had files relating to the two projects. These files were examined in the agency offices in the Twin Cities. Both agencies provided copies at reasonable cost. MIAC, on the other hand, was slow to respond to requests. The first letter was sent to the MIAC on September 14. Because MIAC's main office is located in Bemidji, almost 200 miles from the Twin Cities, the request was not to examine the documents but for copies of documents. By October 12, no response had been received, so another letter was sent.
On October 22, 2004, Joe Day of MIAC responded to these letters. In his letter, Day stated that MIAC had very little data on the current archaeological project, which was being undertaken by the cultural-resource firm Summit Envirosolutions of St. Paul, working for the developer, McGough Construction. Day wrote: “Regarding data obtained from Summit Envirosolutions the MIAC has received minimal data from the organization since the project is still underway and its final report has not yet been completed.”
As for the Ceridian project from 1998, Day wrote that it would require forty hours of work by MIAC’s cultural resource person, at the rate of $19.50 an hour, to gather the documents from the agency’s files. But an opportunity was offered for someone to come to MIAC office and look for the documents for free.
One of the features of the Minnesota Data Practices Act is that agencies cannot charge for letting people examine documents in their files. But when someone requests copies of documents the agency can charge
the actual costs of searching for and retrieving government data, including the costs of employee time, and for making, certifying, compiling, and electronically transmitting the copies of the data.
There are limits, however to the kinds of charges that can be assessed. Interpretations of the law have suggested that charges should be “actual and reasonable” and that the burden is on an agency to demonstrate this to be the case. The agency “may not charge for separating public from not public data.” People who request documents cannot be required to pay for costs that result from poor organization of agency’s documents, since state law requires that agencies have to “keep records containing government data in such an arrangement and condition as to make them easily accessible for convenient use.” According to an opinion of the Minnesota Department of Administration “one of the reasons for this requirement is to reduce the possibility that a highly paid staff person is the only individual capable of retrieving data responsive to a request.”
Many state agencies do fulfill the last requirement to keep records in good order. The State Archaeologist and the State Historic Preservation Office filed records relating to the several archaeological projects in folders making it easy to examine documents relating to the Bloomington projects.
It did not seem reasonable to the MMDC, knowing how well organized these two agencies kept their records, that it would take MIAC forty hours to gather and copy the documents relating to the two Bloomington projects. It seemed all the more unreasonable because by now the MMDC already had a good idea from records in the other state agencies about the extent to which the Indian Affairs Council had supervised the work in the Ceridian project and was continuing to supervise the activities of the archaeologists in the current project.
State law provides strict protections for burial places, but it also gives MIAC great discretion to deal with and even remove Indian remains from burial sites. This is discretion that is granted to no other state entity. Thus whenever Indian remains are encountered the MIAC is there to authenticate and finds ways to deal with the remains. The solution in the 1998 Ceridian project, was, as has been described in Part 2 of this series, one worked out in consultation between the MIAC, the archaeologists, and the developer. But of the three entities, MIAC had the strongest hand and could dictate the result.
The authority of the MIAC in relation to the current Bloomington project was also made clear in a Work Plan dated July 17, 2004, portions of which were signed by the State Archaeologist, representatives of the developer, and MIAC. As described in Part 2 of this series, the work plan outlined the work to be done by Summit Envirosolutions—the developer’s subcontractor—during an archaeological survey designed to operate under the authority of the State Archaeologist and the MIAC. The State Archaeologist provided authority for the authentication part of the survey, when it was determined that human remains were involved and that they were Native American. The MIAC provided authority for subsequent phases leading up to the reburial of the remains. The work plan showed that the Office of State Archaeologist and the MIAC not only directly supervised portions of the Summit Envirosolutions survey, but that the agencies had determined the actual process of the survey.
When MMDC members examined the records of the State Archaeologist they found documentation of the role of the State Archaeologist in relation to the Bloomington project. Maps generated by the office showed the way in which 19th-century data had been matched to current terrain as a means of locating the various Lincoln Mounds. An e-mail recorded the first find of human remains at Mound 2 on July 23, the find that provided the basis for authentication of the mound as a burial place. These and other documents were filed together with other records relating to archaeological site 21HE7, the number given to the Lincoln Mounds under Minnesota’s statewide system of record-keeping for archaeological sites.
It was hard to imagine that MIAC would not also have a file of documents that would record the supervisory and decision-making process the agency carried out in relation to the Lincoln Mounds on the Ceridian property in 1998 and on the current site in 2004. In fact, one highly placed state official, who was consulted by MMDC during the community’s investigations into the archaeological survey in Bloomington, suggested that it was incumbent on an agency which had such so much discretion on the matter of Indian burial places, to keep a decision-making record. This official stated that while it might be hard to mount a legal challenge the agency’s discretion over such burial places, the agency had an obligation to keep a record of its decision-making process and to share information relating to that process with the public.
But if MIAC had a record of its role in making decisions about the Bloomington site, it did not appear to be eager to share that record with the public. In his letter Joe Day emphasized that the record was “minimal” at best and that it would be a lengthy process to gather the data on the Ceridian project from older files. To make things easier, MMDC, in a letter of October 26, withdrew the request for the 1998 project documents. Instead of pressing for all of the documents, the Mendota Dakota renewed its request only for the “minimal” documents relating to the current Bloomington project.
The expectation was that this would accelerate a response from MIAC. The response took a month. An undated letter in an envelope postmarked November 16, 2004 arrived in Mendota just before Thanksgiving. Joe Day stated, in this short message:
The Indian Affairs Council will begin collecting all data and information regarding the Lincoln Mounds and duplicating it and forward the material to you. The information will be forwarded to you no later than December 22, 2004. Our cultural resource person has been out of the office on site assisting one of the Federally Recognized Tribes on a project that has taken him away from the office for the past two plus weeks. As soon as he returns on Friday November 19, 2004 he will be given this request as a top priority to complete in his work schedule.
In retrospect it must be admitted that like many communications from MIAC, this one should have been examined very carefully, reading between the lines, to extract its full meaning. A perceptive and extremely careful reader might conclude from this letter that Joe Day was promising with this letter to supply not only the documents that MMDC had requested for the current Bloomington project, but also all the Ceridian documents from 1998 for which MMDC had withdrawn its request in its last letter.
Also, though there was no mention of any charge for the information that would be forwarded to the MMDC by December 22, Day made a point of mentioning that the documents would be collected by “the cultural resource person” after he returned to the office. This cultural resource person was probably Jim Jones, the individual actually supervising the archaeological dig in Bloomington from July to November. The letter suggested that the archaeological dig was now over and that Jones would now make it his top priority to assemble and copy the documents requested by MMDC. Perhaps in saying this Day meant to make clear that there would be a charge for Jones’s services, although, again, there was no mention of a charge.
Finally, it must be noted that the letter stated that Jones had been out of the office “assisting one of the Federally Recognized Tribes on a project.” This is a recurrent theme in messages from the MIAC. Few communications from MIAC fail to mention the Federally Recognized Tribes, with the first letters of the words capitalized. In a phone conversation in September, Jones had stated that the “mandate” and responsibility of the MIAC was not to the public and not to individuals such as those represented by the Mendota Dakota, a non-federally recognized community, but to federally recognized tribes. While this may be a debatable point, since the Indian Affairs Council is funded by all the citizens of Minnesota, it appears that this is the operational belief of the some of the staff of the MIAC.
Since Day’s letter made no mention of a charge for the delivery of these documents and since MMDC members had other activities to keep them busy through Thanksgiving and leading up to Christmas, a decision was made to await Joe Day’s forthcoming package and see what MIAC had assembled in the way of documenting its activities in Bloomington.
The Phone Call
The call from Joe Day came on December 21. The documents were ready. It would cost $465.50 to get them. He would fax a bill. The payment could be made to the MIAC’s small Twin Cities office and the documents would be delivered. No bill had was received by the next day. MMDC wrote a letter and faxed it to Joe Day, asking for the bill and an explanation about exactly what they were being asked to pay for and why. The following day, December 23, the MIAC faxed the bill. In addition to a date and time, the cryptic document said:
JIM CALLED WITH THE FIGURES:
18.5 HRS @ $19.00/HR $351.50
570 PAGES @. 20/COPY $114.00
GRAND TOTAL $465.50
Apparently “Jim,” probably Jim Jones, had called someone, possibly Joe Day in Bemidji, with the hours he had worked in assembling the documents and the number of pages and photocopy costs. That person had subsequently put these figures on paper and faxed them to Mendota. But what exactly were the documents? Were these the “minimal” documents relating to the Summit Envirosolutions project or were they “all the documents on the Lincoln Mounds,” including material on the Ceridian project? And why had it taken Jim Jones 18.5 hours to put them together and copy them? There were no more messages from Joe Day. It appeared that if anyone wanted to get answers to these questions they would have to pay the cost.
By now it was Friday, Christmas Eve. Early the next week, after many discussions, MMDC decided to gather the money and pay the bill, but at the same time to protest the amount and to seek later a more complete explanation and, possibly, a refund of any unreasonable charges.
A letter was written and faxed to Joe Day on December 28. For various reasons, including an unfortunate illness, nothing much happened until after New Year’s. Finally, on January 3, a representative of the MMDC went to the St. Paul office of the MIAC, delivered the check, and picked up the box of documents.
It is now possible to reveal the record compiled by the MIAC relating to the Lincoln Mounds in Bloomington.
A Box of Papers
A cursory examination of the box's contents show that MIAC interpreted broadly the request for documents relating to the current Summit Envirosolutions project in Bloomington. There were not 570 pages but 797 pages of documents in the box, of which only 119 appear to relate directly to the Summit Envirosolutions project in 2004. Another 284 pages comprise a document assembled by the City of Bloomington in 2002, an Alternative Urban Areawide Review (AUAR) of the entire Airport South district, in which the Lincoln Mounds are located. Finally, 394 pages consist of five different versions of a report prepared under the direction of the archaeologist David Mather for the Ceridian project in 1998, for which Mather was the “principal investigator.”
MIAC may explain some day why these particular documents were included in the package delivered to MMDC. Until then, one is forced again to read between the lines. One explanation for including five different versions of Mather’s report is that it was an attempt at humor. But Mather does have a clear and interesting style of writing and perhaps the message of the MIAC was that something useful could be gleaned from a line-by-line textual comparison of the various versions.
However, including Mather's reports does make a serious point about the current archaeological project. As has been stated in Part 2 of this series, the MIAC's Ceridian project was the model on which the current Bloomington project was based. That project involved the creation of a new mound to house remains from an old one, from which it was determined that this would be the way things would be done on the current project. Even before it was known exactly what would be found in exploring Lincoln Mounds 1, 2, and 3, it was determined that the remains would be removed and either placed across the road at the Ceridian site or at another new mound somewhere else. David Mather himself was, at least for a time, a consultant for the Summit Envirosolutions project.
Nonetheless, since the MMDC had specifically withdrawn its request for material relating to the Ceridian project, it is unclear why MIAC searched out and copied all these versions. Just as questionable was the inclusion of the 284-page Airport South district AUAR report. While the report does contain a brief reference to the Lincoln Mounds, the Summit Envirosolutions survey did not begin until two years after the AUAR.
The meat of the documents was a file folder with 119 pages that actually related to the question of what happened at the Summit Envirosolutions dig in Bloomington. These documents did not answer all questions, but they gave intriguing clues that relate to details of the dig that was the subject of the data request.
The documents in the folder do not look like a collection that was assembled only as the result of a Data Practices Act request after 18.5 hours of work by a cultural resource specialist. Instead it looks like a portion of a project file that might have been put together by that cultural resources specialist during his daily work on a project. In many ways this file resembles an abbreviated version of those assembled by employees of the Office of State Archaeologist and the State Historic Preservation Office when they deal with projects of this kind. There are e-mails letters, notes, photographs, maps, and other materials that provide a kind of road map for describing in a very rudimentary way, the process through which an agency deals with a particular archaeological site. However, like many communications from MIAC, the documents in the folder are enigmatic and incomplete.
The Archaeological Survey
The documents record that Jim Jones began dealing with officials at McGough Development, the State Archaeologist, and Bloomington city officials in early May 2004. McGough’s project was a massive one to build the Bloomington Central Station LRT station and surrounding buildings, in all a $700 million project. The meetings and discussions were taking place before any archaeological survey began or any human remains were found.
The meetings were the result of McGough's proactive approach to MIAC, in an effort to deal with human remains that might inhibit the development. In one document in the MIAC file, Jim Jones noted: “We have now been approach[ed] by McGough Construction, who has . . . acquired the land across the Street where Mound 1, 2, and 3 are located.”
It is significant that McGough had made the approach because it appears to have been interpreted as a sign of respect to MIAC and its role under state law. In the past MIAC had responded well to such approaches. As noted in an earlier installment of this series, Joe Day was especially impressed by the Ceridian Corporation in its dealing with the Lincoln Mounds in 1998. Day stated in a Ceridian press release from 2000:
Normally, there’s a standoff and diminishing property values. In the extreme case, developers care nothing about the culture and do what they damn please. Ceridian took a completely different approach. They were proactive and respectful. Once we saw that, we said, “We’ll do anything to help you finish your project.”
In the case of the McGough project, doing anything to help the developer finish its project meant helping it by removing human remains. Just when this solution was determined upon, however, is not clear from the documents. Early contacts between the parties involved meetings to “determine what [is?] the most appropriate identification and search process to move forward with” in relation to Lincoln Mounds 1, 2, and 3, at the corner of 34th Avenue and Old Shakopee Road. Later in May, Bob Sharlin, a Bloomington city official provided a draft to the MIAC of “Field Investigation and Protocols” for dealing with the Lincoln Mounds. Outlined in very vague terms were simple procedures to study the mound locations and verify the presence or absence of burials. If burials were found, the protocols stated that a determination would be made as to “procedures and evaluation of excavation activities, analyses and reports, and consultation with MIAC on re-burial or other alternatives.”
Detailed typed notes, probably written by Jim Jones, of a meeting with McGough, Bob Sharlin and the State Archaeologist on May 21 appear to have been written and later sent to Leonard Wabasha, an employee with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC). The notes contain a summary of the Ceridian project and the agreement reached for the placement of additional remains in the mound, an agreement set to run out in 2004. This agreement was relevant because if remains were found on the new project they could, theoretically, be placed in the Ceridian mound. But at this point there was uncertainty about just what was to be done. While Lincoln Mounds 1 and 3 appeared to have been impacted, the author of the notes believed that Mound 2 might “still be intact with some disturbances to it. My personal view is that this mound is still visible on the ground.”
At some point in early June the decision appears to have been reached that despite the possibility that Mound 2 was intact, remains located there would be reburied. The basis of this decision is not recorded, but on June 10, Jim Jones of MIAC signed an agreement with a representative of the Ceridian Corporation to extend the previous agreement allowing reburial in the Ceridian mound through April 1, 2007.
In mid-June 2004 further meetings took place involving MIAC, McGough, and the State Archaeologist. Notes of the June 17 meeting suggests that the differing roles of the State Archaeologist and MIAC under state law were discussed. It was noted: “Mark’s office wants to be involved with this project,” an apparent reference to Mark Dudzik, the State Archaeologist. David Mather and Molly Lyons at Summit Envirosolutions were mentioned, with the note “identified w/OSA,” although it is not clear to whom this referred. Another note pointed out that the survey work would need a permit from the city of Bloomington.
By mid-July, Summit was working for McGough, with Molly Lyons, now O’Brien, in charge of the proposed archaeological survey. O’Brien composed a draft of a work plan designed to guide the survey and establish parameters for it under the authority of OSA and MIAC. Various drafts of this document were passed back and forth between agencies resulting in a final version dated July 14, 2004. (For more on this document see Parts 2 and 3 of this series.)
Before the beginning of archaeological work a Dakota spiritual leader offered a prayer at the site on Monday, July 19 at 9 a.m. A representative of the developer attended the event and later thanked MIAC for the opportunity to attend, stating: “What a peaceful way to celebrate life on a beautiful morning!”
Tree clearing on the site began later that morning, at 11 a.m. It is not known if the archaeological work actually began that day, but the authority to begin work was not passed by the Bloomington City Council until that night. As described earlier, an e-mail of the State Archaeologist recorded finding a human tooth fragment at Mound 2 during hand excavation on Friday, July 23.
After the beginning of the survey in late-July there is no record in the MIAC file of e-mails, photographs, documents, notes or other writing to record any activity at the Bloomington site during the early archaeological investigations there, even though the survey proceeded under the authority of MIAC.
Things pick up again at the end of August, not as a result of the agency’s desire to keep records of what was occurring in Bloomington, but because of the attention that the Mendota Dakota were now bringing to the survey, through their vigil and the surrounding publicity. To respond to what was happening, MIAC, the Shakopee Dakota community, and McGough all worked together to provide a consistent message. Three separate news releases were written on the subject around August 27. Creation of these documents may have been aided in part by the well-known St. Paul PR firm Goff and Howard from which copies of the documents were faxed back to MIAC on August 31. Shakopee’s news release also shows evidence of being faxed from the tribe’s own legal department.
MIAC’s press release stated that the archaeological survey was following the requirements of state law, under the direction of MIAC, “in coordination with the Federally Recognized Tribal Communities.” Remains had been found and that MIAC would be “relocating the remains for reburial.” The release concluded with a request:
We ask that all media refrain from going on or near the site, or videotaping the location so archaeologists can respectfully and safely complete their work.
It is not known if this request influenced any Twin Cities media to back off coverage of the mound story, though it is apparent that much of the media have done so since September.
Shakopee’s news release noted that the community had just been informed that human remains had been uncovered in Bloomington. The community was informed that the remains were likely Dakota people buried at the site prior to the 1600s. The community wished to respond to false media reports suggesting that it had not protected these remains. The release emphasized that the community was “not in a position to make unilateral decisions directing how these Dakota remains are to be handled.” Instead, the authority was given under state law to MIAC to post “for protective purposes the perimeter of an Indian burial mound.” The posting had not been done previously. Representatives of MIAC had now informed Shakopee that “the handling of the remains are being conducted in the most culturally appropriate manner and in strict compliance with the law.” Shakopee had been assured that activities at the site had included “appropriate cultural ceremonies.” The release concluded: “Because this matter is considered private, sacred and very ceremonious, the SMSC declines further comment at this time.”
McGough Construction’s release noted that at the beginning of the project, the firm
requested a review of the area by the State of Minnesota’s archaeologist. The review identified a burial mound. Following the State of Minnesota’s process, the matter was turned over to the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council. Since that time, the Indian Affairs Council has been working very carefully with local American Indian leaders to explore how to respectfully move the remains to a safe and permanent location.
Each release, though intended to preclude further questions, was tantalizing in its lack of substantial information. The MIAC release stated that the agency was consulting with the Federally Recognized Tribes, but in fact, up until late August, it appears that the agency had consulted only with the Shakopee community. The Shakopee news release acknowledged that the community had been consulted but distanced the community from the decisions made by the MIAC and the assurances made by MIAC. Interestingly the Shakopee release reported the suggestion that the remains were Dakota, but dated before 1600. Apparently, this statement was in response to the suggestion that the remains might have been from deaths at the internment camp located near Fort Snelling in the winter of 1862-63. There is no other document in the records to verify this report in the Shakopee release of a pre-1600 date for any remains found in Bloomington.
The McGough release is especially interesting because it accurately indicates how closely the Indian Affairs Council was involved in shaping the archaeological survey once it was determined that the site included the locations of Lincoln Mounds 1, 2, and 3. At the same time, McGough’s release shows that from the beginning the removal of the remains from the site was predetermined. From the moment MIAC entered the picture careful work was undertaken on how to “move the remains to a safe and permanent location.” This careful work was done before it was known the number of remains were at the site and their condition. It also appears to have been done without any consideration of the possibility of leaving the remains alone.
A few days after these releases, on August 31, MIAC produced another document about the work in Bloomington, a document available in draft and final form in the files. The document was sent out to the Board of Directors and Tribal Council members of MIAC. This one-page document labeled “Cultural Resource Report” contained a more detailed account of the course of events involving MIAC and the Bloomington site, which provided new information, but with some significant distortions.
The purpose of the document, according to MIAC, was to address the concerns “floating throughout the communities” about the archaeological site and to provide “current and accurate information.” The document stated that human remains had been found at the Bloomington site, referred to the authority of MIAC under state law, and described, in general terms, what was done under that authority.
One intriguing aspect of the report was the description of the MIAC’s process involving “the Tribes,” unnamed, in deciding what should happen to the remains located at the burial site in Bloomington:
After considerable discussion and with great reluctance the Tribes have granted to the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council their authority to rescue the remains. The remains will be respectfully re-interred and repatriated to a permanently protected site in close proximity to the current site. The [Tribal?] Councils have been working with Tribal Elders regarding the treatment of the remains. The archaeologists are working with the remains with utmost sincerity, cultural sensitivity, respect and technical expertise. Minnesota Indian Affairs Council representative Jim Jones and Tribal Elders are advising archaeologists and overseeing the work. Prior to any work, spiritual leaders conducted appropriate ceremonies and appropriate ceremonies will occur for re-internment. Further pro-active cultural resources work over the next month will take place to assure that no additional human remains are inadvertently encountered during construction.
This statement appears to have been very carefully written to provide a plausible description that would be acceptable to tribal and state representatives on the council. The problem with the statement is that it is inaccurate in a number of telling ways.
The reference to “the Tribes” suggests that tribes other than Shakopee were consulted at key moments during the process. In fact, there is no evidence that other Dakota or Ojibwe tribes were consulted before late August 2004. This may be why the statement includes the vague term “tribes” rather than the phrase, “the Four Federally recognized Dakota Communities,” used in the draft version of this report.
It is also significant that the report includes the reference to “considerable discussion and with great reluctance” on the part of the tribes. This is a considerable change from the statement in the draft version, which says:
We have been working with the Four Federally recognized Dakota Communities and at their recommendations, and under authority granted to the MIAC, the remains will be respectfully relocated for reburial at a permanently protected site in close proximity to the current site.
It may be that this statement could not remain in the final draft because part of it is inaccurate and the rest of it is offensive to the federally recognized Dakota communities. It affirms that the four communities had been consulted in the decision-making process, when in fact some had not, and it implies that the authority was not with the tribes, but with MIAC. This last fact appears to be true, under state law, but would probably be offensive to the tribes.
Another significant feature of the MIAC report of August 31, 2004 is the new explanation it proposed for the removal of the remains at the Lincoln Mounds site, an explanation not mentioned before that the remains were “disturbed” and were being “rescued.” The report stated that at some point, when the Shakopee community was consulted on “how to handle the remains,”
Shakopee was also informed that the remains were disturbed by numerous activities that had taken place on the site, such as landscaping, utility poles, power lines, phone lines, fiber optic lines, and an old farmstead and homestead buildings that were constructed and removed.
The information given here about the site is not an affirmative record of facts about the site, but is comprised of evasive implications. Interestingly the wording varies from the statement in a draft version of the report, part of which states: “The current evidence shows that significant landscaping, a utility pole, power lines, phone lines, fiber optic lines, and old farmstead and homestead buildings have all disturbed the site.”
The earlier version of the statement affirmed the information as supported by evidence that the site was disturbed. The final version merely stated that the Shakopee community had been informed that the site was disturbed. Why this statement was changed is unknown. Were the human remains found at the site of these mounds actually “disturbed” and if so in what ways? The question is important because there are many degrees of disturbance. Disturbance is not an absolute state. Many so-called disturbed sites retain a great deal of archaeological as well as sacred integrity.
In a conversation with members of the MMDC in October, the State Archaeologist made the point that Mound 2 of the Lincoln Mounds, located in the front yard of the Lincoln farm, surrounded by trees, and later not directly affected by street and sidewalk construction, would likely have shown much less disturbance than the Mounds 1 and 3. Did subsequent construction activity directly disturb the burials in Mound 2 in the same way that they disturbed Mounds 1 and 3? The earlier statement from MIAC did not give an answer and in fact dodged the question through the implication that “the site” which includes all three mounds exhibited disturbance. This may simply mean that at various points on the site, outside of Mound 2, this disturbance was evident.
Subsequent documents in the MIAC file do nothing further to answer these questions. Some of the documents reflect the continuing efforts of the Mendota Dakota. Jim Anderson of MMDC attended the Bloomington City Council meeting on September 13 and raised questions about the role of the city in approving the archaeological survey of the Lincoln Mounds. The city manager appears to have contacted legal representation in responding to Anderson’s questions. Subsequently the city sent McGough Construction and Jim Jones of MIAC copies of its response.
The archaeological survey was completed in the second week in November. No records in the files report any details of the survey. On November 16, Jim Jones wrote to the city manager of Bloomington to provide an “update”:
I am writing to give you and the members of the City Council an update of the work that [h]as taken place at the McGough property in Bloomington. Work that was being done on behalf of McGough was completed last week.
MIAC will continue to work with the federally recognized tribes in relation to the burials that had been recovered. The return of these remains will be under the direction of the Tribal Representatives.
Thank you, for your help and understanding during this process. If there are questions or comments, feel free to give me a call.
The communication is remarkably uninformative. Described as an update, the letter communicated nothing beyond the fact that the Summit archaeological work at the Bloomington site was done. No actual information about the survey was included, though the intention to rebury or rather “return” the remains found, at some unnamed place, was reaffirmed. The most unusual aspect of the letter was that the words “federally recognized tribes” were not capitalized.
The nature and amount of information found in the MIAC files leads to some conclusions about the way MIAC keeps its records. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall of 2004, Jim Jones of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council supervised an archaeological survey involving the excavation of a number of human remains at a burial site in Bloomington, a few blocks from the Mall of America. The survey was carried out under the direct authority of MIAC and followed procedures dictated by the agency. In the month and a half following a prayer conducted by a Dakota elder at the site on July 18, neither Jones nor anyone else at MIAC collected any documents, notes, e-mails, receipts, photographs, or anything else on paper relating to the archaeological survey under their control, until late August. At that time, because of the attention brought to the site by the Mendota Dakota, MIAC was motivated finally to put something on paper, for publicity purposes. Later, in November, MIAC wrote a letter to the City of Bloomington stating that the excavation was completed.
If nothing else, this lack of record-keeping relating to this significant project under MIAC’s control may provide the explanation for the agency’s bill stating that it took 18.5 hours to collect and copy the documents provided to the Mendota Dakota. Since the agency apparently does not feel an obligation to record the details of how it carries out its authority regarding Indian burials under state law, it must taken have all that time to find the sparse and scattered documents that somehow were created unintentionally.
What emerges from the documents that MIAC did collect is further corroboration that MIAC made the decision to rebury any remains found at the Lincoln Mounds 1, 2, and 3 early on in the process, prior to the groundbreaking in July 2004. Although the Shakopee Dakota community was consulted, MIAC made the decision. There is no evidence that other Dakota communities were consulted at this point. In August, the Mendota Dakota brought attention to the site and the fact that remains were found there. To counter criticism MIAC then consulted other communities, including possibly Upper Sioux and Prairie Island. Those communities apparently had different opinions, including some critical ones about the activities at the site and the reburial of the remains. It was only “with great reluctance” that they agreed to sign off on the decision reached by MIAC months before. The reasons for this decision have yet to be explained.
Many questions remain, not only about what was actually found during the archaeological survey in Bloomington, but also about the process through which it is being carried out. How well did the actions of MIAC in this case serve the interests of Indian tribes, Indian people, and the wider public? To what extent are Indian burial places adequately protected by a system in which MIAC exercises total discretion with no real accountability? Someday, when MIAC or another party chooses to reveal the whole truth about what has occurred at Lincoln Mounds 1, 2, and 3, it will be possible to give more complete answers to these questions. What is known to this point will give support to a push for a new system of authenticating, identifying, and protecting Indian cemeteries in Minnesota.