The Mounds Project Team has been active in its efforts to stop projects that pose threats to historic Native American burial site Cahokia Mounds, which spans several cities including Cahokia, Dupo, East St. Louis and St. Louis.
According to community organizer and archaeologist Suzanne Kutterer-Siburt, Great Rivers Greenway, regional parks and trails district, has proposed the construction of a stadium in St. Louis in an area adjacent to Lumière Place Casino and Hotel, which is the site of. Kutterer-Siburt said Great Rivers Greenway wants to collect archaeological specimens before beginning construction.
“This is Big Mound, where the highway goes across, and this is what really debases me,” Kutterer-Siburt said. “The [Great Rivers Greenway] over in St. Louis, where they’re building bike trails, [does] environmental things and stuff like that; they want to develop this whole area for the stadium, [even though] they’ve been told that this mound group is here. Now they want to put in big glass buildings and make a technical incubator site down there, and I shook my head at them. I was amazed the Osage tribe was there with me during the meeting, and we were all there shaking our heads.”
Kutterer-Siburt said there is a mound site in the Columbia/Dupo area where the City of Columbia wanted to build a strip mall, which she said angered the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma who managed to stop the project.
“The City of Dupo refuses to let anything happen to this site; they are so into protecting this site. There has been some [consideration] into buying this piece of property, and then donating it to back the city of Dupo and making a park out of there,” Kutterer-Siburt said. “The second largest archaeological site — the range site — is right outside of Dupo too, and the Peoria Tribe would like to go to the University of Illinois and demand all the artifacts back from all the archaeological sites that they excavated down in that area, and they would like to build a museum.”
Kutterer-Siburt said she and her team raised over $300,000 for their campaign, as well as held extensive talks and meetings with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which owns the Cahokia Mounds as well as various federally-recognized Native American tribal leaders, politicians, and the Metro East and St. Louis Parks and Recreations.
“We had to work with the politicians at the state and federal levels on both sides of the river. We needed letters of support; we needed funding. We did it all from local money. We didn’t use any government money. This area is known as a cultural wasteland in Chicago and Springfield, and we’re trying to raise money for cultural things,” Kutterer-Siburt said.
Quapaw tribal historian, genealogist and Quapaw Tribal Cultural Committee Chairman Ardina Moore, who teaches O-Gah-Pah, the native Quapaw language, said the mounds should be saved in order to protect her people’s culture and history, such as their stories and language.
“In our culture, everyone has to have a name and it’s gotten where we don’t have a name-giver anymore because that who gave names passed away, and she didn’t designate anyone else to give names. We no longer have a name-giver in the Quapaw tribe, which makes it hard for all the young people and their young children. The mounds are part of our culture and the heritage, and the history of our people should be preserved,” Moore said.
Senior geography major Catherine Richardson, of St. Louis, said she was touched by Moore’s story. Richardson, who was present for the presentation as part of a Native American Studies course, said she understands the cultural importance of the Cahokia Mounds to the surrounding area.
“I think it’s really cool what they’re doing, and I support it,” Richardson said. “Instead of destroying this history, they should turn it into a national park. Thousands of years of history is more important than highways or stadiums.”
During her presentation, Kutterer-Siburt said she came close to having a resolution passed to protect the historic sites and turn them into national parks, something that was ultimately fruitless at the time due to legislative issues in newly elected Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office. She passed out petitions to attendants and asked them to support her efforts.
“I had a resolution pass through the state of Illinois, and nothing’s worse than when Quinn loses the election and Rauner gets elected as the governor of Illinois and on the first of January, even though I had it passed in the House, and it was just getting finished passing through the Senate, Rauner said ‘Anything that has been passed is not passed anymore,’ meaning all bills and resolutions and everybody had to start over from scratch, so I had to start all over from scratch doing the resolution through our state government,” Kutterer-Siburt said.
Kutterer-Siburt said she will continue her efforts to protect the Cahokia Mounds and achieve national park service status for the Cahokia Mounds and surrounding mounds in the Metro East area.