Fond du Lac tribal leaders, MnDOT officials gather to reflect on tragedy

Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 7:08 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN -- Friday, leaders from the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa gathered at Chambers Grove Park in Duluth’s Fond du Lac Neighborhood to commemorate the completion of a new cemetery.

The event was as solemn as it was reflective.

“Back in 2017, there was a project on highway 23 with MNDOT to revamp highway 23, and by going off the highway, they ran into the cemetery,” said Fond du Lac Chairman Kevin Dupuis Sr.

The cemetery was built to ensure the remains that were dug up aren’t disturbed again.

“If it was another place it wouldn’t ever have happened. It’s a well-documented site that it happened at,” said Dupuis.

The incident sparked a years-long discourse between the tribe and MnDOT.

“We realized we need the Fond du Lac band to help us to lead the effort to work through what was uncovered,” said MnDOT Commissioner Nancy Daubenberger

Dupuis acknowledged the effort to reconcile those wrongdoings.

“It was a bad thing. It was the wrong thing. What can we make right from it? And I think what we’re doing right today is the best that we can at this point,” he said.

Both parties were present for the commemoration of the cemetery Friday.

“It’s so meaningful to MNDOT to be asked to participate because it’s a testament to our partnership, the good work we’ve done together the good work we’re going to continue to do together in the future,” said Daubenberger.

She said they’ve made efforts to grow since the mistakes were made.

“We learned from this incident that we need to make sure we’re consulting with and collaborating with our tribal partners,” she said.

Dupuis recognized the work the two parties have done since.

“I think MNDOT is taking great strides, not just to accommodate, but to set things in place where there’s going to be the check and balance and where there would be consultation,” he said.

The Fond du Lac Band already held a ceremony to rebury the remains and will hold another ceremony to dedicate the cemetery in the coming weeks.