More human remains have been found at a Duluth road construction site, a week after work was stopped and a day after state transportation officials apologized for desecrating Indian graves.
Jim Jones, cultural resource director for the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, said investigators were called to the site Friday to examine the remains after they were spotted by someone walking through the area late Thursday night.
But Jones said it was unclear whether they were Indian remains.
“We can’t say for sure,” he said.
Work was halted last month on about a half-block portion of the Hwy. 23 construction project after members of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa told state officials the area had a “high potential” of being an Indian burial site.
On June 6, remains were found in another part of the project, prompting state officials to stop all work.
Transportation officials said that, as with most of their projects, a historian should have evaluated the site before work started.
“We don’t have a handle on how this all fell through the cracks,” said Roberta Dwyer, project manager for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Officials there are examining how “we goofed or whether the process was at fault,” she said.
“This was a horrible, horrible thing, and it’s MnDOT’s responsibility,” Dwyer said.
In a public meeting Wednesday, state transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle and other officials apologized to tribal members and the residents of the small western Duluth neighborhood where they were found.
“He felt it was a horrific thing that inadvertently happened and wanted everyone to know how sorry we were and that he understood how deeply affected that Native individuals and the band were by this,” Dwyer said. “We’re working to heal the wounds and move forward together.”
On Friday, Jones was back at the road construction site after the additional bones were unearthed in an area beyond the documented boundaries of an old cemetery.
“We don’t know the extent of the cemetery, and that’s what my office will determine,” Jones said.
Archaeologists are performing tests, looking for disturbances in the soil that may indicate the location of additional graves.
“Over the years, the cemetery was relocated but the remains that were removed were from Christian burials,” Jones said. “Traditional burials belonging to the band were not.”
State transportation officials and Indian leaders will work together to determine the burial site’s boundaries, how the remains will be preserved and whether the project will be rerouted.
“We want to make sure the whole area is checked thoroughly before work proceeds,” Jones said.
The burial site wouldn’t have been desecrated if state officials had consulted with the band before the road work began, said Bruce Savage, tribal council vice chair of the Fond du Lac Band.
The area, nestled against the St. Louis River, is one of the most historic properties in Duluth, he said.
“That’s where we existed for hundreds of years before we were removed 20 miles west to an area that’s 60 percent swamp,” Savage said.
Although the band was moved to the Fond du Lac Reservation after it ceded its land under an 1854 treaty, the original settlement is still considered “our home,” Savage said. “That area provided us with everything we needed to exist.”
A roadside marker about two blocks from the nearly milelong project notes that the area was the site of a Chippewa settlement from the 16th through the 19th centuries.
Before the road work began, a necessary permit from the Army Corps of Engineers required the State Historic Preservation Office be consulted before a stone arch bridge over nearby Mission Creek could be replaced. But the preservation office wasn’t consulted on the rest of the highway project.
“It’s sad that it was missed,” Jones said. “It never should have been missed. But we can move forward and make sure this doesn’t happen again … and that these people are protected and treated with the respect and dignity any and all people should have.”