published Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

American Indians say remains desecrated at Moccasin Bend

Workers with Choctaw Transportation continued to reinforce the inner bank of Moccasin Bend while another scoop of dirt is dumped on the shore. The work is meant to protect against erosion due to high water levels.
Workers with Choctaw Transportation continued to reinforce the inner bank of Moccasin Bend while another scoop of dirt is dumped on the shore. The work is meant to protect against erosion due to high water levels.
Photo by Jake Daniels.
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TIMELINE

June 1994: The Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute board calls for public meetings on the issue of adding Moccasin Bend to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, and the Friends of Moccasin Bend National Park is formed.

2002: Then-President George W. Bush signs legislation authorizing Moccasin Bend to become part of the National Park Service.

Feb. 20, 2003: New law adds about 780 acres of Moccasin Bend to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, making it the Park Service’s first archaeological district.

December 2010: Riverbank stabilization work is announced.

Source: U.S. Park Service, newspaper archives

An American Indian group claims Moccasin Bend Indian burial remains have been desecrated by a riverbank stabilization effort that was intended to save the graves and archaeological assets.

And the group is threatening a massive protest if the U.S. National Park Service and bank stabilization contractors for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers don’t respectfully re-bury the remains and make changes to the project immediately.

“We’re being told that remains were disturbed where they’re working, and that they are not being protected and guarded,” said Carl “Two Feathers” Whitaker, chief of the Nashville-based Native American Indian Movement.

In preparing the bank for a bargeload of riprap — rocks and other materials used to strengthen the bank — a centuries-old grave may have been uncovered along the heel of the riverbend, NAIM officials suspect.

Park Service officials and contractors say recent storms and the Tennessee River, not the bank stabilization project, washed out the grave.

Additionally, an archaeologist working for the company contracted to do the work also found a second grave that had been recently opened, apparently for looting.

Kent Cave, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park ranger and spokesman, said the NAIM is “misinformed.”

“We found these things because this project was occurring. It wasn’t a result of that [work],” said Jim Szyjkowski chief of resource management, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. “And this whole project ... is intended to protect against this kind of thing happening in the future.”

Saving heritage

With every ripple and wave, the Tennessee River for decades has been scouring away about a foot a year of history and dignity from the toe and heel of Moccasin Bend’s 12,000-year record of human habitation. The bend officially became known as Moccasin Bend National Archeological District, the newest unit of the nation’s oldest military park, in 2003.

Last December, Park Service officials and former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, who had obtained funding for the bank stabilization project, unveiled the work plan, which began earlier this year.

The $3.2 million first phase of stabilization work covers just about a mile and marks the first publicly visible sign of progress on the newest segment of the nation’s oldest national military park.

It also is what park officials and archeologists have termed the most critically needed stabilization along Moccasin Bend’s 5.4-mile perimeter.

To stop the erosion, the plan called for the riverbank to be covered with a combination of riprap and fill dirt to raise the bank about 3 1/2 feet above the normal river level. The fill dirt will be planted first with grass, then with native plants to hold the soil against the river and runoff and to normalize the look of the river’s edge.

To protect the hundreds of burials on what is known to have been an massive and important Indian village, no machinery has been allowed on the riverbank itself, park officials said. The riprap and fill dirt are handled from a barge in the river.

Even the trees that had to be removed along the bank before the work could begin were hand cut, not ripped from the bank as is done in normal stabilization projects. Then the tree trunks were hoisted by barge crane onto another barge and hauled away by river.

Nick Honerkamp, an archaeology professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, reviewed the Park Service plan.

“It’s kind of a model for what should be done. And actually what has been done is a model, too. Everything is working the way it’s supposed to work,” he said.

More to do

Meantime, work is continuing to stabilize areas away from where the remains were found in mid-June.

Todd Roeder, chief park ranger for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, said the site is under guard around the clock, and an investigation is under way involving the looted site.

The Tennessee River also keeps rolling, and it continues to eat away real estate and memories at the water’s edge.

Roeder pointed Tuesday to an area of the riverbank that was scoured out by the water just above a section of newly laid fill clay that is being placed between the riprap base and the top of the ground at Moccasin Bend.

“That’s a perfect scene of what’s been occurring on the riverbank — how it’s just kind of caved in. The bank is giving away almost on a daily basis,” Roeder said.

Around the bend’s perimeter, there are five more segments of the moccasin-shaped peninsula still exposed to the Tennessee River’s random rage. Stabilization projects on the other five segments have not been funded. In 2004, one estimate to complete the work was about $6.5 million.

As for what happens now with the remains found on river bend, Cave and Roeder said park officials plan to meet today with representatives of the tribes who signed the park’s stabilization work plan and memorandum of agreement.

After the remains were found, the Park Service called in the Southeastern Archaeological Conference and representatives of that group will present a report at the meeting with the tribes, Cave said.

Whitaker said he may try to attend the meeting, too. Even if he can’t, he hopes the tribal representatives will insist the Park Service treat the remains respectfully and not use them for testing or exhibit.

“According to our Native American customs — and also the law — the remains are to be treated with great spirituality,” he said. “And if it’s not done that way we will have a large gathering there

“Think of it as like a drum getting closer and closer. We’re waking up, and we’re not going to be shoved around anymore. And our burials aren’t either.”

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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countrykid1 said...

Well spoken, Wildman. Two Feathers protesting about disturbing old burial grounds? Get a job like the rest of us.

July 13, 2011 at 7:54 a.m.
wolfy61 said...

Yes us damn indians are here we hang out at constuction sites for the fun of it.or maybe get boxed up and placed on a shelf.There are some people who really dig us..can't you tell.No you have it all wrong you are on our Creators Rez..Keep up the good work Twofeathers and NAIM I will stand with you guys Some people just dont give a damn about us damn INDIANS.Beat that drum bro

July 13, 2011 at 9:33 a.m.
acerigger said...

wildman said...

"Go back to your casino, unless you can prove you're a relative nobody gives "two feathers" about your opinion." wildman,your statement exposes you as someone who has no respect for yourself,much less for others.

July 13, 2011 at 11:21 a.m.
SeaMonkey said...

i've buried quite a few guinea pigs in our backyard....

is that burial ground sacred now?

move on.......resistance is futile.

let's cut out this hypenated crap.....we're all americans....

July 13, 2011 at 11:50 a.m.
SeaMonkey said...

some of you "native-americans" didn't give a damn about other "native-americans" you killed in battle, or the land you won in battle... or their burial grounds..

you see...it's all relative.

no one is pure.

July 13, 2011 at 12:06 p.m.

Moc Bend is covered in remains. The bones of dead animals that natives killed, cooked, and ate over thousands of years. Yet, we don't hear from the deer, rabbits, or turkey.

July 13, 2011 at 12:55 p.m.
tderng said...

Personally I think that we should dig up the catholic graveyard in East Ridge and turn that hill into a condo.Take the bodies and shove them into a common grave.We should do that to all the graveyards all around the county.I also wish that the Cherokee Nation would sue the government for all of Moccasin Bend to be returned.Then turn it into a casino!

July 13, 2011 at 1:19 p.m.
chas9 said...

L4Freedom, You give libertarians a bad name. Please stop. Frankly, most libertarians are brighter than you are.

July 13, 2011 at 1:21 p.m.
marinecorps12 said...

I cannot believe what I am reading. Talk about your racism. Whether you like it or not this was their land before it was ANY of ours. Why don't some of you go back to the countries where your ancesters are from? Go back to your casinos? How ignorant. My ancesters were from the Chickamauga Cherokees and frankly it does need to be watched. It sounds like they have been misinformed so it needs to be cleared up before anyone goes off the deep end. Comparing native American remains to animal bones?

July 13, 2011 at 2:45 p.m.
johnnyhurst said...

This is kinda like diggin up the National cem in Nashville where my grgr grandad is. Or the grave of my grgrgrgr grandad who was a Revolutionary war vet. Or a confederate cemetery of people you arent any kin to. It would piss you off to see someone desecrate The Confederate cem up by Bonny Oaks dr. Nobody knows who is there, but it would be very disrespectful to Southern heritage correct? Let them have their sacred land and respect their wishes.

July 13, 2011 at 3:44 p.m.
marinecorps12 said...

It looks like some people need to read up on the indian history in this area.

July 13, 2011 at 4:18 p.m.
tali said...

What Indians? Just because someone calls themselves Indian and goes by some fake "Indianish" name, that does not make them native, Hello, is anyone with any sense out there??? Haven't we went thru all this before? When Carl Whitaker would not even answer an email asking him to come out against the six FAKE tennessee tribes seeking recognition last year, it was obvious that he was just like the rest of the fakers and NO ONE wants to hear what he has to say about anything. Credibility shot, a waste of time!

July 13, 2011 at 6:02 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Honerkamp's the man for archaeology around here. If he says the established procedure is good; then, that's a relief.

If people are upset about what's happened, then there is probably some existing mechanism to receive and assuage those complaints. If a burial has been disturbed, then I imagine people could be very specific, down to a few meters, in explaining the complaint. Also, how difficult is it to coordinate some religious services which might meet the cultural needs of people who feel they've been wronged? I don't imagine letting the burial grounds erode into exposure would be an acceptable answer, either.

It seems to me that if there are complaints, then these are solvable problems.

July 13, 2011 at 6:51 p.m.
whitelie said...

You people dont even let the dead rest,You wound every thing you touch.

July 13, 2011 at 7:02 p.m.
johnnyhurst said...

I believe their main complaint is that a grave was invaded by looters. That was only found out from the work that is being done to stop the erosion however. This place should be protected. Whitelie, there are alot of us folks here in the Tennessee valley with Cherokee blood in their veins. There are thousands in Tennessee who have native American descendants. I have two brothers who have alot of Blackfoot heritage, we here in Tennessee are Americans first. If you want to be proud of your heritage, thats fine but dont lump all of us together as YOU PEOPLE.

July 13, 2011 at 7:16 p.m.
menosmile said...

I came here to read this and cannot believe the comments above. Is this 1850 again? What are you like 12? This day in age you would THINK people would have respect for one another. They are not called NATIVE Americans for no good reason, they are Native to this land and WE the WHITE people came to it and took it over. To that extremely ignorant person above who I will not quote, I am sure you lurk here waiting for something to be said to you, so you know who you are. I hope one day you learn to respect others and get over your selfish ways. You have no idea how uneducated you sound; it's so disappointing to see people act like you, you are 100% what is wrong with this country.

Furthermore, The above article is WRONG, no one should ever move the dead. Period.

July 13, 2011 at 7:16 p.m.
Legend said...

I too can't believe the callous remarks being made here about a people native to this land. Why not go p@ss on all those civil war burial sites? Take a dunk on the graves over there at the local National Cemetery honoring dead military men and women. See how all these making lite of the desecration of Native American Indian gravesites come out swinging. There'd be another civil war to break out. The Hispanics, always the African-Americans, now the Native American Indians. Who will they come for next?

They too "thought they were free" and safe. Then they came and took them away.

"Auch sie dachte, sie waren frei und sicher. Dann kamen sie und nahmen sie weg"

July 13, 2011 at 8:34 p.m.
Legend said...

And of course, you know that for a fact right? Vikings: 1. Here first? 2. Were white? one or both?

Over the past years unscrupulous archeologists have been digging up bones from elsewhere and planting them all over EVERYWHERE.

July 13, 2011 at 8:48 p.m.
johnnyhurst said...

Might want to read The Viking Sagas Wildman.When The Vikings came here, there were already Native Americans here. They did quite a bit of trading with each other...... and killing of one another also.

July 13, 2011 at 9:13 p.m.
dude_abides said...

Don't worry about the racist pigs on this page, their daughters are having mixed race babies left and right, rebelling against the crap they've heard their ignorant fathers spew their whole life. Future Americans will be embarrassed by and disgusted with this whole chapter, which is just starting to come to a close. You can already see it in the census.

July 13, 2011 at 10:58 p.m.
RTZ said...

Alrighty then. I truly tried reading through these comments. What planet are some of you from? Some of these comments have absolutley nothing to do with the topic in the least. As much as I have loved the people of Tennessee while I've been here.....I'm glad I didn't meet disrespectable folks like yourselves.(You know who you are) I wonder just how belligerant and nasty you are in person. Probably not in the least. Would you get mean and nasty to an indian if you saw one in the store? Copmputers do give people courage to say what they want...don't they. Next time you post...say something like you would in person. People may actually value your opinion. Thank you to all of the truly clear minded friendly people out there who read these. Chattanooga has been a blast!

July 13, 2011 at 11:19 p.m.
Chuck said...

Is the bulldozer in the photo with the river in the back ground not on the river bank? If Two Feathers wants to protest he needs to protest the work on the river bank at New Home along Hwy 156. at the bottom of the bridge on the south side of the hwy coming out of South Pittsburg TN. there are several fields that have long been known to be "Shell Mounds" right on the river bank. And after years of plowing and planting crops in the middle of this burial ground large homes are now being constructed. Is this not a big enough platform to yell from? I challange Two Feathers to go to New Home!!!

July 13, 2011 at 11:25 p.m.
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