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Grand Mound Decision on Access

Sacred Burial Ground to Remain Closed with Limited Access for Native Americans

For immediate release

Release dated: 
October 26, 2018
Media contacts: 

Lauren Peck, 651-259-3137, lauren.peck@mnhs.org
Lory Sutton, 651-259-3140, lory.sutton@mnhs.org

Sacred Burial Ground to Remain Closed with Limited Access for Native Americans

MNHS honors wishes of descendants of those buried at Grand Mound Historic Site

 

ST. PAUL, Minn. (Oct. 26, 2018) - The Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) decided yesterday to keep the Grand Mound Historic Site closed to the general public, following the wishes of descendants of Native Americans who are buried at the sacred site. The site will be accessible to Native Americans for ceremonial and educational purposes.

“This site is first and foremost a burial ground with thousands of human remains still interred there,” said Joe Horse Capture, director of Native American Initiatives at MNHS. “This decision honors Native ancestors and ensures respect for Native American culture and history.”

MNHS will continue to preserve the mounds while working toward a long-range plan for the site’s future that includes the possible transfer of the site to a Native American tribe or tribes. In the immediate future, MNHS will research options regarding the future of the site’s visitor center, and staff will work with both Native and non-Native stakeholders to develop educational outreach opportunities to share the history of Grand Mound with the general public.

“Grand Mound is part of an interconnected line of burial mounds that runs for 90 miles along the Canadian and U.S. sides of the Rainy River,” said Kent Whitworth, MNHS director and CEO. “The historical importance of this site cannot be understated, but we must protect it and provide education while also ensuring that Native people can care for the place where their ancestors lie.”

MNHS acquired Grand Mound in 1970, opened a visitor center in 1976, and operated it as a publicly accessible historic site until 2002 when budget cuts forced its closure. Since then, MNHS has continued to maintain preservation and security of the historic site while exploring options for its future.

In 2014, MNHS began the most recent effort to engage community members about the site, speaking with business, civic, educational and cultural leaders from International Falls and Koochiching County as well as Native American and Canadian First Nations peoples. In 2017, MNHS expanded Native American engagement to include all seven Ojibwe and four Dakota tribes in Minnesota, as well as exiled communities and Native Americans outside the state who have a cultural connection to Grand Mound. A total of 18 Native communities provided feedback. Across the board, both Native and non-Native stakeholders repeatedly expressed the importance of preserving and educating the public about Grand Mound.

Yesterday the MNHS Executive Council (board) reviewed and approved a report summarizing that engagement and recommending the site remain closed to the general public, except for access by Native Americans for ceremonial and educational purposes.

Background
Located 17 miles west of International Falls, the Grand Mound Historic Site comprises five sacred burial mounds and an ancient sturgeon fishing village. The village dates back more than 5,000 years while the mounds were first developed approximately 2,000 years ago. The site’s biggest burial mound is the largest earthwork mound in the upper Midwest, measuring 25 feet in height and 140 feet in length. It is part of a network of mounds, sturgeon fishing sites and seasonal villages stretching 90 miles along the Rainy River in Canada and the U.S.

The site became a National Historic Landmark in 2011. In fall 2018, the nearby McKinstry Mound site―which includes two burial mounds dating to the same time period as Grand Mound―was transferred from the Minnesota Department of Transportation to the Minnesota Historical Society. MNHS will develop a mound management plan for both sites.

Find out more about Grand Mound’s history and view images and maps.

About the Minnesota Historical Society
The Minnesota Historical Society is a nonprofit educational and cultural institution established in 1849. MNHS collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing. Using the power of history to transform lives, MNHS preserves our past, shares our state’s stories and connects people with history. Visit us at mnhs.org.

The Minnesota Historical Society is supported in part by its Premier Partners: Xcel Energy and Explore Minnesota Tourism.

History

Grand Mound History

For immediate release

Release dated: 
June 7, 2018
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen, Marketing and Communications, 651-259-3148, jessica.kohen@mnhs.org
Lauren Peck, Marketing and Communications, 651-259-3137, lauren.peck@mnhs.org

Grand Mound History

The Grand Mound historic site has been a sacred place in Native American history for thousands of years. The site includes five earthwork burial mounds and a fishing village where people would gather to harvest spawning fish in the spring. Grand Mound is part of a network of 20 mounds, fishing sites and seasonal villages, stretching over 90 miles along the Rainy River in both Canada and the U.S.

Map that shows Grand Mound as part of network of 20 mounds sites

The site’s largest mound was built approximately 2,000 years ago to honor and bury the dead. It was added to over several centuries until about 600 years ago. Spanning 140 feet in length and 100 feet wide, it is the largest burial mound in Minnesota and the upper Midwest. With its 25-foot tall “body” and a “tail” stretching 200 feet, archaeologists have speculated it could be shaped like a serpent or a muskrat.

The location of Grand Mound is unique in that it was built on a floodplain, in a place that is still occasionally inundated. It is close to the water between the active river channels and a marshy abandoned channel of the Big Fork River. In contrast, most mounds were built on high elevations, overlooking lower areas.

Map that shows Grand Mound and other mounds on site and visitor center

Grand Mound is the heart of an interconnected archaeological landscape built by the Laurel people, who lived in present-day northern Minnesota, Ontario along Lake Superior, and in portions of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The Laurel people are part of the larger Middle Woodland cultural group, who resided in the area approximately 800-2,000 years ago.

Today research shows that the Laurel people’s descendants may be Algonquian-speaking people, including the Cree, Blackfeet and A’aninin (or Gros Ventre), who now live north and west of Minnesota. However, other groups also have ancestral ties to the site, including the Dakota—whose traditional stories tell of their interactions with Grand Mound—and the Ojibwe, who migrated to the area about 500 years ago.

Grand Mound is on land the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe ceded in 1866 and is very close to where three treaty territories intersect. Many Ojibwe bands from across Minnesota and Canada would travel to the site annually during the spring sturgeon season.

Map that shows Ojibwe lands ceded at or near Grand Mound

Europeans first arrived at the Rainy River about 300 years ago and started settling in the area in the mid-1850s. By the 19th century, antiquarians and looters began digging at Grand Mound and other area mounds, causing damage. The earliest archaeological excavations of the site began in the 1880s. The University of Minnesota conducted the first scientific excavation of the site in the 1930s, and archaeologists continued to study the site throughout the 20th century. Archaeologists estimate that between 2,000-5,000 individuals are buried at Grand Mound.

MNHS acquired Grand Mound and 60 surrounding acres in 1970 and began interpreting the site’s history for the public with a visitor center, exhibits and walking trails. The site was named to the National Register of Historic Places two years later. In 1975, a MNHS archaeological study determined that the site’s history spans 5,000 years.

MNHS closed the site to the public in 2002 due to budget cuts, but has continued to preserve and monitor the historic mounds. In 2011, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior named Grand Mound a National Historic Landmark, one of only 25 in Minnesota. This designation recognizes the importance of the site in North American archaeology, as well as the symbolic architecture of the Grand Mound itself.

Grand Mound is unique among the MNHS network of statewide historic sites because it contains thousands of human remains. As a result, since 2014, MNHS has conducted extensive community engagement around the historic site and its public use, most recently with Native people whom researchers believe are the direct descendants of those who built the mounds.

Images

Grand Mound Images

For immediate release

Release dated: 
June 7, 2018
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen, Marketing and Communications, 651-259-3148, jessica.kohen@mnhs.org
Lauren Peck, Marketing and Communications, 651-259-3137, lauren.peck@mnhs.org

Grand Mound Images

These images and maps may be used for editorial purposes in magazines, newspapers and online to promote Grand Mound historic site. Credit information is listed.

photo of Grand Mound in summer

Grand Mound in summer.

Photo by Mike Budak, courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Download high-res image (561.16 KB)

Map that shows Grand Mound as part of network of 20 mounds sites

Map courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Download high-res image (800.03 KB)

Map that shows Grand Mound and other mounds on site and visitor center

Map courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Download high-res image (444.44 KB)

Map that shows Ojibwe lands ceded at or near Grand Mound

Map courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Download high-res image (1.26 MB)
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