MnDOT says it messed up, apologizes to Fond du Lac Band for damaging burial grounds

They held a meeting in Duluth's Fond du Lac community Wednesday.
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MnDOT officials apologized to members of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Wednesday evening, for the highway project that plowed through a tribal burial ground.

Work to replace the Highway 23 Mission Creek Bridge in Duluth was halted after the band alerted MnDOT to the site's history. An inspection then turned up human remains, the band said last week, and a full archaeological study is now being done.

At the time, Chairman Kevin R. Dupuis accused MnDOT, the Army Corps and the City of Duluth of ignoring requirements that they consult tribes on any project affecting their land.

If they had "consulted with the Band in advance, we could have made sure the studies happened and we could have avoided disturbing the site," Dupuis continued. "We need to work together to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future."

And on Wednesday, MnDOT said at a community meeting that yeah, they messed up.

"Really, on behalf of the agency and behalf of our state of Minnesota, I'm really here to apologize. I'm so sorry," MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle told the crowd, according to FOX 21.

The Duluth News Tribune says MnDOT officials were asked at the meeting why nobody with the Fond du Lac band was consulted in the years of planning. MnDOT's response: The process didn't include them, and that was a failure.

The construction project was to raise the level of the historic bridge by 5 feet to avoid chronic flooding. That meant moving an access road, and the new route would take it through an area that the Fond du Lac band says is well documented as a cemetery.

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