Assistant Principal Chief/Historic Preservation Office respond to site discovery
July 07, 2011

On Saturday, June 18, 2011, the Osage Nation Historic Preservation Office (ONHPO) received a notification via email from Dr. Robert Dunn of the Mississippi Valley Division of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) stating that a site had been discovered along the intentionally breached section of the levee at Bird’s Point on the New Madrid Floodway in Mississippi County, Missouri. The report indicated that an employee of the USACE had discovered hundreds of human bones at the aforementioned location. The intentional breaching of the levee on May 2, 2011, qualifies as an emergency action under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (16 U.S.C. 470 et seq.) and 36 CFR Part 800, the process for reviewing the impacts that Federal undertakings may have upon historic properties. The ONHPO has been participating in consultations with the USACE concerning the breaching of the levee by authority of 36 CFR 800(c)(2). Effects to important sites and burials have been the primary concern throughout the consultation process addressing this emergency action. Unfortunately, due to processes and circumstances beyond the control of the ONHPO, no formal protocol for addressing incidents such as the recent discovery had been established prior to the breaching of the levee or the discovery at Bird’s Point.

On the morning of Wednesday, June 22, 2011, Representatives of the ONHPO, including Dr. Andrea A. Hunter, Director, and James Munkres, Archaeologist I, and Assistant Principal Chief, Scott Bighorse, travelled to the site with representatives of the USACE, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) of the state of Missouri to inspect the site. After reaching the location, Assistant Principal Chief Bighorse and Dr. Hunter conferred and decided that, in light of the fact that the area was to be flooded again that evening, the remains would need to be collected. Representatives of the USACE made it clear that their agency could not take responsibility for the decision to collect the remains. The USACE, FEMA, and the Missouri SHPO, however, assisted the representatives of the Osage Nation in collecting the human remains. Following their collection, the remains were turned over to the Missouri SHPO representative according to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, 25 U.S.C. 3001 et seq., (NAGPRA). The collected remains are currently housed in Jefferson City with the Missouri SHPO where they will await transport to the University of Missouri at Columbia. Shortly thereafter, the ONHPO will claim those remains according to NAGPRA. Should that claim prove to be successful, the Osage Nation will rebury them.

The USACE wishes to rebuild the levee at the existing location. Reconstruction of the levee will, by law, be postponed until concerns regarding the site are resolved. The Osage Nation will continue to consult with the USACE, FEMA, the Missouri SHPO, and other concerned and participating tribes to determine the best course of action with respect to the disposition of any remains discovered at the site in the future and additional steps that will be taken in determining the site’s characteristics.

The Osage Nation Historic Preservation understands that the Assistant Principal Chief is extremely busy and sincerely appreciates the level of commitment demonstrated by the Chiefs’ Office with regard to the protection and preservation of the history and culture of the Osage Nation.

Photos from the June 22, 2011 visit to the newly discovered site may be found at <Site Discovery>.