Native American grave looted at Moccasin Bend

Chattanooga, Tennessee (AP) July 2011

An archaeologist who found Native American remains in a washout near an ongoing erosion project also discovered a nearby burial site that was looted, a spokesman for the historic site on the Tennessee River said.

Spokesman Kent Cave said that the burial sites were not uncovered by any erosion project work activity but by an archaeologist at the $3.2 million first phase of the riverbank stabilization.

The Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District is part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, and the grave looting and open burial site were discovered near the area where work is continuing. The looting is being investigated.

“Whoever was digging in there probably took some things with them,” Cave said.

He said representatives of 17 different tribes were invited to a meeting to inform them of the discoveries.

Native American Movement chief Carl “Two Feathers” Whitaker had told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that he was told “remains were disturbed where they’re working, and that they are not being protected and guarded.” A park official told the newspaper that Whitaker’s group was misinformed.

Nick Honerkamp, an archaeology professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, described the erosion protection work as a model project.

“Everything is working the way it’s supposed to work,” he said.

To protect the sites of hundreds of burials on what is known to have been a huge Native American village, no machinery has been allowed on the riverbank, park officials said. Rocks and fill dirt used in the work are handled from a barge in the river.

“We found these things because this project was occurring. It wasn’t a result of that (work),” said Jim Szyjkowski chief of resource management at the park. “And this whole project ... is intended to protect against this kind of thing happening in the future.”

After the remains were found, the park service called in the Southeastern Archaeological Conference.

Whitaker said he hopes tribal representatives insist that 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.”

The river for decades has been washing away about a foot a year from Moccasin Bend, which officially became a national archaeological district in 2003.