MnDOT didn't realize its road project was running through a tribal cemetery

The construction project in Duluth was put on hold when human remains turned up.
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A construction project in Duluth is now suspended because the road work was happening on the site of a tribal cemetery.

Minnesota's Department of Transportation (MnDOT) apparently did not realize that the land near the Mission Creek Bridge was once a burial ground for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

The band says in a statement when they learned about a construction project at the site they alerted MnDOT that it had once been a cemetery. An inspection turned up human remains so the project was shut down.

Tribe is 'deeply disappointed'

The construction project is in Duluth's Fond du Lac neighborhood. The idea is to raise the level of the historic bridge by five feet to avoid chronic flooding. That means moving an access road. The new route takes it through an area that the Fond du Lac band says is well documented as a cemetery.

MnDOT project manager Roberta Dwyer tells MPR News the project got several permits, including approval from the state's historic preservationists and nobody said anything about a burial ground.

Archaeologists from the state and the tribe will now begin a study of the site. MnDOT and the Fond du Lac band will then work together on determining next steps.

The chairman of the Fond du Lac band, Kevin Dupuis, Sr., says besides MnDOT the Army Corps of Engineers and the city of Duluth also have roles in the project and the band is disappointed they didn't hear from any of them.

“State and federal agencies have an obligation to consult with Indian tribes on projects affecting tribes. That didn’t happen,” Dupuis says. He says the band supports improving local infrastructure but the work has to abide by laws protecting burial sites.

MnDOT's Dwyer tells MPR the agency wants to not only resolve this issue but also learn lessons from it to prevent a recurrence. "It is our intent to continue to work together in a cooperative manner so this will never ever happen again," she says.

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