Native Village
Youth and Education news
January 1, 2011 Volume 1

Outrage lingers among those who love Effigy Mounds
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Condensed by Native Village


Iowa: More than 60 years ago, Effigy Mounds National Monument was established. The 2,500 acres of towering bluffs near the Mississippi River are home to 206 sacred Indian mounds. Many are 2,000 or more years old, and some contain burial remains.

Protecting them all was the goal of putting the land in federal stewardship. This would make the land accessible for tourists while  preserving it for the future. 

However, the historical integrity of Effigy Mounds National Monument  has  been interrupted. Somewhere along the line, the National Park Service built three boardwalks and a maintenance shed without following procedures. 

The park service admitted to this and believe that nothing was built on top of any mounds. They also ensure something like this will never happen again.

"The buck stopped at my desk it was my responsibility," says Phyllis Ewing, former park superintendent.  "My era's past, and it's into a new era ... But there was absolutely, positively no intent by anybody on that staff to hurt a blade of grass."

Ewing lost her post when the park service learned she and her staff had not followed procedures for at least 10 years. "
But those attached to this land remain outraged. Naturalists expected it to be sheltered from development. Historians thought the federal protection would preserve it.  Indian tribes say these actions dishonored sacred ground. Most
agree that apologies aren't enough -- the supervisors' actions violated federal law.

"They're supposed to be a leader in this," said Iowa state archaeologist John Doershuk. "It's a matter of respect. We in modern society set aside areas for cemeteries, where we bury ancestors. We expect people to respect that. People are outraged when vandals tip over headstones, or spray them with graffiti. Burial mounds are the same sort of monument, just much, much older."

Mark Edwards of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is also upset. "In a national monument, I see no reason, no possible excuse, for that to have happened," he said. "Effigy Mounds was set aside as a nondeveloped area. How could people in those positions, working at the most incredible spot in the whole state, dedicated to those purposes of historic preservation, go and do what they did?"

The Park Service discovered the problems at Effigy Mounds National Monument during a standard review process. They immediately put all EMNP projects on hold, including a $275,000 third boardwalk, which was being built.  The park service tore down the third boardwalk by hand to ensure the land wasn't disturbed.  The maintenance shed will also be taken down,

 The first two boardwalks remain; they cost nearly $800,000.

"Helping to restore trust in the National Park Service is really, really important to me," said new superintendent Jim Nepstad. "To a large degree, it'll involve lots of face-to-face time with people, folks who feel like they may have been let down by what happened."

Nearly everyone involved believe the mistakes were not intentional, but others insist the agency must be held fully accountable.

"They just fell down in every way," said Lance Foster, an Ioway Indian. "It damaged a sacred place. If you put a shovel full of dirt back into it, you can't fix it. There's a spiritual part of it that you damaged ... They don't want to face up to their responsibilities. They need to do that if any trust is to be built back again."

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