Grand Mound Historic Site

Grand Mound is a site of deep historic and rich cultural significance. Located along the Rainy River near International Falls, it comprises five sacred burial mounds, ancient villages, and sturgeon fishing sites developed approximately 2,000 years ago. The Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) acquired the historic site in 1970 but it has been closed to the public since 2002.

Public opinion is divided about the appropriate use of the site and whether it should remain closed.

MNHS continues to maintain and preserve Grand Mound Historic Site and provide security to ensure the site is protected while it is closed to the public.

MNHS has been working with Native American stakeholders and local community leaders on a plan for the future of Grand Mound Historic Site. To honor the history of the site and its relevance to many people, MNHS is expanding community engagement into 2018 by seeking input from additional Native communities in Minnesota, Native communities in exile, and Native communities with ancestral connections to the mounds that no longer live nearby.

No decisions about the site’s future have yet been made. Whatever plan is developed will take into account the needs of various communities and the site’s preservation and sustainability requirements. MNHS believes that partnerships with community members will help ensure a sustainable plan to preserve Grand Mound for future generations.

More History

Grand Mound Historic Site is one of 25 National Historic Landmarks in Minnesota.

The largest of the five mounds is 25 feet high and 140 feet long. It is:

  • Minnesota’s largest Native American earthwork
  • the largest surviving “prehistoric” structure in the Upper Midwest
  • the only effigy mound of this type in Minnesota

Some interpret the mound’s unique diamond shape and long “tail” to be a muskrat or serpent. While most mounds were built in high elevations, Grand Mound was built in a floodplain close to the Rainy and Big Fork Rivers.

Grand Mound Historic Site is part of a chain of more than 20 burial mounds that runs for 90 miles along the Canadian and U.S. sides of the Rainy River.

Regional context: Grand Mound and other features, both natural and constructed

Grand Mound Historic Site map

This interconnected cultural landscape also includes sturgeon fishing sites and seasonal villages. Grand Mound’s village site was a spring gathering place for the harvest of spawning fish and a spiritual center for Indigenous peoples.

At the beginning of the Woodland Period (200 BCE-650 CE) the Laurel Culture inhabited an area stretching across today’s northern Minnesota, the section of Ontario along Lake Superior, and portions of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Archaeologists tell us that the Laurel Native Americans built Grand Mound and other mounds along the Rainy River, most likely to honor their dead.

Although it is not exactly known who the descendants of the Laurel Culture are today, research tells us that they may have been Algonquian speaking groups that could include the Cree, Blackfeet, and A’aninin (Gros Ventre); tribes that are now located north and west of Minnesota. The Nakoda’s (Assiniboine) ancestors may have interacted with the area prior to European contact.

There are also other non-Algonquian speaking tribal groups that could have ancestral tries to the site. Traditional Dakota stories also say they have had some interaction with Grand Mound over time. With the shifting of tribal groups during western expansion, many tribal groups were displaced over hundreds of years. The Ojibwe migration story tells us that they came to the area, including Minnesota, 500 years ago.


Further Reading

Grand Mound and the Muskrat, Minnesota History magazine

Grand Mound by Michael K. Budak


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