The Duluth cemetery that just can't avoid being desecrated

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The MnDOT project on Highway 23 has stopped until officials and band members can determine if the human remains are those of Native Americans.

For the better part of 400 years, the native settlement in what would later become the Fond du Lac neighborhood of Duluth thrived without hindrance. By the early part of the 19th century, that was changing as the American Fur Company established a trading post there.

By about the start of the Civil War, European settlers had begun to displace Native Americans from this locale, which means "bottom of the lake" in French. As early as 1849, settlers were burying their dead in and around Fond du Lac. These cemeteries were interspersed among the generations-old native burial grounds. 

History has been unkind to both pioneers and natives buried in Fond du Lac. Especially the latter.

The first instance of desecration happened in 1869. The Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad was routed straight through the cemeteries, resulting in the exhumation and re-interment of some 100 bodies.

The second came in 1937 with the construction of Highway 23. More than 30 native graves were disturbed. They were found buried two to three feet deep with Birch bark coverings.

The most recent desecration also involves Highway 23. MnDOT's current project seeks to replace the highway's Mission Creek Bridge and raise it approximately 5 feet. Part of the plan involves relocating a nearby access road, which crosses what is believed to be an historic native cemetery.

It was here where MnDOT officials and Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa members discovered human remains last month.

This after the State Historic Preservation Society had approved the project, and four public meetings had been held. Yet no one had consulted the Chippewa before the project started in May.   

"For over 100 years, the band's cemeteries and historic sites have been desecrated by poorly planned development. It's still happening today," band Chairman Kevin Dupuis said in a statement. "This is wrong. It needs to stop."

For now, that's what happening at the Highway 23 site. The state plans a complete archaeological and historical study of the area before the project can start up again.

At this point, nobody knows if the human remains are those of natives or Europeans. 

 


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