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"Scathing" Report Tells of Federal Mismanagement of Native American Burial Grounds

Iowa Public Radio / Clay Masters
Under the watch of the National Park Service, $3 million worth of illegal construction projects went on for nearly a decade at Effigy Mounds National Monument in northeast Iowa.

CLAY MASTERS: Last October we brought you the story of $3 million worth of illegal construction productions at one of the nation’s most sacred Native American burial grounds. And it happened under the watch of the National Park Service.

Now this we’re talking about is Effigy Mounds. It’s up in northeast Iowa. And new evidence shows that the National Park Service has covered up a report on the Effigy Mounds scandal.

Ryan Foley is with me. He’s a reporter with the Associated Press here in Iowa. Hello Ryan.

RYAN FOLEY: Hello Clay.

MASTERS: So Ryan, bring us up to speed. What’s new here?

FOLEY: What’s new is there’s been a new internal National Park Service report released, not officially by the park service. In fact they’re saying it doesn’t exist, but released to a watchdog group that has now made it public. And it is a scathing indictment of the way the park service failed to oversee what was going on at that park between 1999 and 2010.

MASTERS: And we’re talking about 10 years in the making. Kind of go through a little bit of what’s in this…kind-of report, we’ll call it.

FOLEY: Yeah it says the leaders of the Effigy Mounds National Monument were willfully blind to the federal laws that they were supposed to be following when they did construction projects like boardwalks and sheds that ended up damaging the site they were supposed to protect.

But perhaps most damning in here, is the report really goes after the regional office in Omaha for failing to oversee what was going on. And missing what they called “blatant clues of mismanagement” that really went on for years.

MASTERS: And in your reporting there is a new report, or an official report that is going to come out at some point?


MASTERS: Tell me a little about what will change. Or do you have any hints about what will be about the next report they put out?

FOLEY: Well the deputy regional director says that report will include a number of lessons learned and hold the agency accountable for any missteps that occurred. But she also says it’s going to look at went right during this period. She says there were some positive things.

One critic says that’s a little bit like saying what went right with the BP oil spill. Well some dolphins didn’t die, but it’s hard to find a lot of positive of what went on up there.

MASTERS: Now I took a trip up to the site where these projects went on, up in northeast Iowa. Very intricate boardwalk system in place, it’s in circling some of these mounds. Now these are Native American burial grounds. And there’s also this very large bridge that leads to nowhere.

Has there been any progress to move forward and undo any of this? And what would this report do—if anything—to undo what’s been done.

FOLEY: Yeah the report doesn’t really speak to the future of what should happen there, and there’s really no good answers on that yet.  

They say it’s not as simple as just taking this stuff out because you could cause more damage in the process of doing that. And that they’re still going through a lengthy process of getting input and reviewing basically how to  move forward. And there’s really is no good or easy answers.

MASTERS: Did the National Park Service Violate any Freedom of Information Act Laws?

FOLEY: No, they’re arguing that basically that this wouldn’t be subject to FOIA, saying that it’s a draft, or a “pre-decisional” document.

And basically she’s saying, you know, “I said no agency report exists. And what I meant was no agency approved report exists. We don’t, we don’t really recognize this document.”

Even though it was written by four officials from the park service, for semi-high ranking officials, it’s on National Park Service seal. But they don’t recognize it as being approved or official.

MASTERS: Alright Ryan Foley, he’s an investigative reporter with the Associated Press, who’s been covering the ongoing mismanagement in $3 million of illegal construction at the Effigy Mounds National Monument in northeast Iowa. Again that’s a sacred Native American burial ground along the Mississippi River. Ryan thanks for talking with us.

FOLEY: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Clay Masters is Iowa Public Radio’s Morning Edition host and lead political reporter.
Clay Masters is Iowa Public Radio’s Morning Edition host and lead political reporter.