Lawmakers Furious Feds Spent $3.3 Million Paving Over Sacred Indian Burial Grounds

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Lawmakers want to know how the Obama administration allowed National Park Service (NPS) officials to spend more than $3 million building an “extensive boardwalk on sensitive American Indian burial sites” they were tasked with protecting.

Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop wrote Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell to find out why NPS officials spent taxpayer dollars on 78 projects that damaged sacred Indian sites, including boardwalks and trails over 200 sacred mounds without conducting any sort of impact analysis. Bishop, the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, wants Interior officials to brief committee staff on the situation no later than Sept. 9.

NPS disclosed this information in a 2014 report on agency actions at the Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa. The 2014 report found NPS officials “clearly knew what they were doing was against the law” during their decade-long effort building boardwalks and trails over Indian burial grounds.

“[T]he report highlighted findings that [Effigy Mounds National Monument] staff ‘failed to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act and/or the National Environmental Policy Act on at least 78 projects, using $3,368,704 in federal funds,’ which included the construction of an extensive boardwalk on sensitive American Indian burial sites,” Bishop wrote in his letter to Jewell.

Former President Harry Truman created the Effigy Mounds National Monument in 1949 to protect the nearly 200 Indian effigy and burial mounds throughout the region. Ironically, the agency tasked with preserving these sites ended up desecrating them as part of a series of building projects that started in 1999.

“Looking back, everyone is astonished that the incidents at Effigy Mounds National Monument could have happened over the course of so many years,” reads a 2016 follow-up report on the Effigy Mounds misconduct.

This isn’t the only instance of mismanagement by NPS officials at Effigy Mounds. In 1990, the monument’s then-superintendent stole human remains from the site and hid them at his home for more than 20 years.

Federal investigators found Thomas Munson ordered a subordinate to join him in carrying out boxes with the remains of 41 dead Indians from Effigy Mound’s curatorial facility, then hid them in his home. When investigators recovered the bones, they found some were “broken or fragmented beyond recognition.”

Munson was “sentenced to 10 consecutive weekends in jail, 12 months’ supervised probation, home detention for 12 months’ with appropriate monitoring to ensure compliance, $3000 fine and a $25 special assessment,” according to the Department of Justice. “He was also ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and pay restitution in the sum of $108,905.”

NPS was forced to spend $84,000 restoring the broken bones.

“The current staff at Effigy Mounds National Monument is very committed to the mission and purpose of the National Park Service,” reads the 2016 report. “The staff is humiliated about their colleagues’ past actions, angry about the adverse effect on park resources, and ready to move forward.”

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