Thursday, August 18, 2016
‘Confusion at every level’ of the Park Service
Years of sacred- and ceremonial-ground desecration at the Effigy Mounds National Monument in northeast Iowa disgraced the National Park Service, as did a recently sentenced former park manager who stole ancient human remains and hid them in his garage for more than two decades.
A review team of Park Service officials from outside the monument’s region examined the defilement and pronounced themselves “astonished” in an “after action” report released last week.
Its piercing conclusions go well beyond the Effigy Mounds scandals and cut right to the Park Service’s culture.
Given the critical issues the report found throughout the NPS, which celebrates its centennial next week, perhaps it is more surprising that shameful stories like Effigy Mounds aren’t more common.
In addition to the bone thefts, at least 78 projects on the grounds — costing almost $3.4 million from 1999 to 2010 — did not follow National Historic Preservation Act or National Environmental Policy Act provisions. A former superintendent, Phyllis Ewing, lost her job because of that. The projects included “an extensive system of boardwalks throughout the more than 200 American Indian sacred mounds,” according to the report. The mounds are over 1,200 years old.
NPS Midwest Regional Director Cam Sholly said the wrongdoing not only “violated the law and damaged resources” but also compromised “our valuable tribal relationships and the public trust.”
The report describes a confused agency beset with weak management of the nation’s cultural resources that it is charged with safeguarding.
“As the National Park Service is responsible for resources stewardship, we are also responsible for the damage and destruction of the resources entrusted to us,” the report says. “Sometimes it seems as if we hold visitors, concessioners, and contractors to a higher standard than we do ourselves when it comes to resources stewardship.”
Among the problems outlined in the report: