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Not a Great Week for the Mississippi River’s Indigenous Landscapes

May 12, 2014Patrick NunnallyRiver MeaningComments Off on Not a Great Week for the Mississippi River’s Indigenous Landscapes

Most of us know that people have lived in the Mississippi River valley for millennia.  Some of us know that indigenous people are still in the valley, living in every state, every city, from the headwaters in northern Minnesota to the Gulf.  A more complete discussion of that theme awaits future posts.

Meanwhile, it was a disappointing week for news of some of the most visible sites in the valley that are associated with indigenous people.  At Effigy Mounds National Monument in northeast Iowa, National Park Service reports document that illegal construction projects (by the Park Service) have damaged the site.  At the other end of the river, Poverty Point Historic Site in Louisiana has met a roadblock in the process to have it added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

There may be a pattern, or some larger meaning at work here.  In the Iowa case, it appears that park managers repeatedly ignored laws that required consultation with Indian tribes and others before construction projects were undertaken.  As a result, boardwalks have been built, trails and a maintenance shed constructed, without proper review to mitigate damage to heritage resources.

The case of Poverty Point is a little more complex.  Apparently the UNESCO committee that reviews applications agrees the site has “outstanding universal value,” but also sees the site as compromised by the presence of a state highway and the lack of land use regulations that would protect it from further encroachment.  US and Louisiana officials say they are committed to the site’s being inscribed on the list, so stay tuned.

While it is encouraging that Poverty Point is being considered for world heritage status, and that Effigy Mounds is a National Monument (and thereby a unit of the National Park Service) we can hope that administrative and planning safeguards on places representative of indigenous heritage would be so strong that there would be no question about protection.  As the Poverty Point article notes, inscription on the World Heritage list would put the site in the conversation with iconic places such as Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Egypt.

Certainly the great indigenous places of the Mississippi River valley deserve no less.

While we’re at it, what makes us think that we have identified all of the places in the valley important to indigenous people?  That list, and a more refined sense of how these significant places should be treated, is sorely needed.

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