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June 25, 2018

Historic cemetery recovery effort continues in Fond du Lac

Cemetery was disturbed during a construction project on Highway 23 in June 2017


Duluth, Minn. – The Minnesota Department of Transportation, Minnesota Indian Affairs Council and Office of State Archaeologist have been working jointly since June 2017 to respectfully identify and recover human remains that were disturbed from a historic cemetery adjacent to a construction project on Highway 23 near Mission Creek. This project is in the Fond du Lac neighborhood on the west end of Duluth.

The cemetery was disturbed during excavation for a bridge replacement project. At the time of the disturbance, work on the project ceased. MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle met with the Fond du Lac Reservation Business Committee leadership and tribal members. MnDOT took responsibility for the incident and made a commitment to address the issue.

The project agencies have been consulting and coordinating with Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to ensure that human remains found on the site are handled respectfully and in a dignified manner. The remains will be reinterred in the cemetery area once the recovery work is complete.

MnDOT hired a consultant with expertise in this type of work to handle the process. The consultant has worked under the direction of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council and Office of State Archeologist who have statutory responsibility for overseeing and directing this work.

In the past year, significant progress has been made at the site:

• 24/7 security and fencing has been provided at the site.
• Stockpiles of material from the cemetery have been protected from the elements.
• The soil around the graves in the cemetery area has been stabilized to prevent further impacts to graves.
• Utilities and access for residents in the neighborhood have been restored to a point where year-round access can be provided.
• Erosion control has been established.
• A temporary pedestrian and bicycle route has been established around the project area.
• Processes have been established to recover the cemetery material.
• Approximately 20 percent of the cemetery material that was disturbed has been processed to recover human remains, grave goods and other artifacts.
• An archeological survey of the project area has been completed to help define where the cemetery is and where it is not.
• Data has been collected to further define the boundaries of the known cemetery area.
• A shelter has been constructed to allow cemetery recovery activities to occur during inclement weather.

The Fond du Lac neighborhood has been concerned about the flooding risk due to plugging of the Highway 23 Bridge over Mission Creek. In response, MnDOT has staged a backhoe in the project area so that when a storm event occurs, MnDOT maintenance personnel can remove debris as it collects on the upstream side of the bridge. During recent heavy rain June 15 through June 17, this process ensured that debris build-up was minimal and did not impact the neighborhood.

Still work remains on this site. There is approximately 800 cubic yards of cemetery material that still needs to be processed to recover human remains, grave goods and other artifacts. The exact limits of the cemetery need to be determined. Utilities need to be relocated from the cemetery area. The cemetery area needs to be restored and the human remains need to be reinterred.

Once this work is complete, MnDOT can begin developing alternatives to address the risk of flooding due to debris plugging the existing bridge. This process will take time and the final time frame cannot be determined at this date.

MnDOT is currently in the process of bringing in a new contractor to complete the cemetery delineation and cemetery recovery work. This contractor has the capability to significantly increase the number of staff performing work at the site. This is being done to increase the rate of progress on the site.

Additional project updates will be provided as the cemetery recovery progresses later this summer.

For additional information, please contact Mr. Duane Hill, MnDOT District Engineer at (218) 725-2704.