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Tennessee Chapter Support Group
Calls For NAGPRA Support
In Tennessee

I would like to ask you all to assist us in Tennessee with our struggle to preserve a burial site. As you have read, the Texas Oiler's are planning a move to Nashville and the site picked is a known native burial site. Tennessee and the NFL have shown little interest in the concern for our ancestors and we would ask your help.

What we would like to see is a boycott of the NFL and its sponsors. If you think it would be effective we would ask also a boycott of all of Tennessee's products and tourism. This could even include a boycott of the country music industry arriving from Tennessee. Also, there is Opryland and Gaylord Enterprises that we could target for this boycott. I welcome your input and hope you will join us in this struggle. The bottom line is that the Oiler's could locate to a less sensitive location and better serve the needs of Tennesseans without destroying a First Nations grave site. Look for an update soon on this issue.

In The Struggle, Michael Sims - 2.16.97

Historical Information
Prior to the 1600's and the arrival of Columbus the Shawnee people were in this area. Later the Cherokee moved here, however burials are from many different nations. The state of Tennessee, however tends to label these burials as "non-culturally affiliated".

Background Synopsis
In 1990 a bridge project was undertaken where Jefferson Street meets the Cumberland River near downtown Nashville. Several Native American burial sites were found during this project. An 1844 archaeological report revealed that this was part of a burial site that extends for a mile along the Cumberland River. The site for the Oiler's new stadium is a 105 acre tract that extends along the east bank of the Cumberland River between Woodland Street and Shelby Street, which is the continuation of the site mentioned in this 1844 report. Although it is rumored that the plans for the stadium have been altered to move it further back from the river, the probability is very high that [more] Native burials will be encountered. Further compounding this is the fact that the displaced businesses might be relocated to Cockrill Bend and Bell's Bend, both sites of numerous Native burials.

At best, the response of local officials has been apathetic. Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen said in one radio interview that "he does not consider the matter of Indian burials on the East Bank an issue, because they have already been disturbed by construction in the past". While there may have been some disturbance in the past, for about a hundred years Nashville used this site as a landfill and it is estimated there is about 16 feet of cultural fill over the natural land surface covering these Native burials. It is significant to note that all soil and fill (and burials) will be removed during this project with the stadiums' foundation lying on exposed bedrock. At Traveller's Rest there was a garage built over some of the Native burials. The floor was concrete and preserved the burials from disturbance, much like one could expect the cultural fill to protect the East Bank burials from disturbance but not when the entire soil horizon is stripped bare.

As usual, Tennessee maintains that only state laws are applicable to this project. However, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), [Introduction 10.1 Purpose and Applicability]: (part (b) Applicability. These regulations pertain to identification and appropriate disposition of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony that are {1}in In the possession or control of any institution or State or local Government receiving Federal Funds. On February 29, 1996 the Tennessee Legislature approved a 55 million dollar bond package for this project. Since Tennessee receives Federal funding, this then becomes a Federally funded project. Further, the Tennessee Division of Archaeology would receive or "have control" of any remains and artifacts unearthed and they are, by their own admission, responsible for compliance with NAGPRA. So why is NAGPRA not being followed here?

Under Tennessee law the only time Native Americans may monitor a construction site is during the actual removal of human remains. Core drilling was done on this site without any Native Americans present and, as I understand it, they were not allowed on-site. The official statement of the Tennessee Commission of Indians Affairs was "they received no phone calls or correspondence about the core drilling and were never invited to monitor this part of the project". If NAGPRA procedures had been followed, then not only would a Native American monitor have been present, a council would have been formed to study this project with Native input before any work commenced (see the Section 106 process under the Cultural Resources Act for further details).

Again we are seeing another Native burial site threatened by cultural development. Without NAGPRA, States throughout Turtle Island are free to dispose of Native burial sites as they see fit for the "betterment" of community. We have attempted to bring this issue to a Federal Court, but our resources are limited. At the very least we need to be able to have a monitor present during construction. We ask for your support by letting our officials know that we are not happy with this latest attempt to strip us of our dignity by unearthing our ancestors. This project to move the Oiler's to Nashville demonstrates the need to strengthen State laws everywhere and demand that NAGPRA laws be stringently followed.

Update - February 25, 1997

As time passes the excavation and demolition continues on the site that will be the new home of the National Football Leagues' Houston Oilers. Actual construction on the stadium is scheduled to start in May, 1997 with the completion expected to be one year sooner than previously thought. Rapidly, time is running out for our ancestors which are buried there. Recently, I received the much awaited report of the archaeological monitoring of the geotechnical test bore locations. This article will brief you on the contents of this report and other developments in this dynamic situation.

First we will consider some legal questions that have arisen. Experts have assured me that NAGPRA laws only applies to museums, universities, institutions, etc. that have holdings of Native American remains and artifacts. This would also apply to state institutions that hold such items for tribal response. In this case that would be the Tennessee Department of Archaeology. Assuming this is true, the question of whether the Section 106 process applies still remains. What has been determined, is that the stream of funds for the Oilers deal derived from a state General Obligations Fund and is construed by Tennessee government officials as not to be a direct federal stream. However, the stream of funds for the road improvements to support the stadium is a direct federal stream from the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Therefore, the process known as Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act is pertinent and we ask why it is not being followed?

The archaeological background of the report surmises that Native occupation of this area started about 13000 BP (before present). The Nashville basin was thought to be a hunting area for the Shawnee, Chickasaw, and Cherokee with the Shawnee last expelled from there around 1745. The Nashville area has often been referred to as the "Land or City of the Dead" as so many different nations buried their ancestors here. Being on the Cumberland River, it was also a major trade center and migration route for many nations. The report indicates that there are no known prehistoric sites in the subject area. However, it does state that because of the large number of such sites on the Cumberland river it is highly probable that such a site would be encountered during the construction of the stadium. It was stated in the report that "limited background research (archaeological) was conducted to facilitate interpretations of the geotechnical survey monitoring." Questions were even raised in the report about the quality and techniques used in the core testing. In the conclusion of the report, they stated there was such a high probability of encountering prehistoric remains that an archaeologist should be required to monitor the project at all times. Reports often reach us of burials encountered during construction and then discreetly removed. Considering the rampant nature of these reports it would seem that the contractor would welcome such a monitor. Still, as in the case of following Section 106, our pleas fall on deaf ears and our ancestors continue to be denied the respect they deserve.

We ask you to continue to support the boycott and demand that the federal laws be followed. Also, we are seeking legal assistance in this difficult struggle. Perhaps one of you might have the legal expertise that we need and be willing to join with us. Time is running out and the ancestors need your help in the struggle.


Michael Sims, 02.25.97

Oilers Move Fact Sheet - 4.7.97
  1. The proposed stadium site on the East Bank of the Cumberland river will disturb a Native American Burial Site.
    a)[according to the] 1876 Antiquities in Tennessee Report to the Smithsonian, by Joseph Jones, "in a small mound...on the eastern bank of the Cumberland the foot of a large mound," this is proximate if not actually contained in the proposed site. Further, "Graves also extend to the river's edge..." and "the fields around also abound with fragments of pottery, shells, stone implements, and splinters of flint. These remains indicated the occupancy of this of this area for a considerable time by the aborigines."
    b) REPORT: Archaeological Monitoring of Geotechnical Test Bore Locations For The Proposed Nashville TN-NFL Stadium Site, Davidson County Tennessee, prepared by Merrill Dicks, State Archaeologist CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS: "Monitoring was limited by the low resolution offered by the drilling process and by the small number and distribution of test bores. direct evidence for the presence of archaeological remains was encountered during monitoring of geotechnical drilling. Indirect evidence for the presence of buried landscapes was encountered. Associated deposits appear to be of sufficient age to contain prehistoric deposits... It is recommended that future construction monitored by qualified archaeologists to determine if potentially significant archaeological remains are located...". THE STATE ARCHAEOLOGICAL REPORTS AND THE HISTORIC REPORTS BOTH AGREE THAT THE PROBABILITY IS VERY HIGH THAT A SIGNIFICANT NATIVE SITE WILL BE ENCOUNTERED.
  2. Residents in the area do not want a stadium in their neighborhood. A voter referendum was held because of this objection. One can reasonably expect significant traffic congestion in a residential neighborhood with a 50,000 seat stadium nearby.
  3. Significant local area road improvements must be done to accommodate this project. Your tax dollars will pay for this.
  4. The access to this site will be at best poor, with major congestion predicted on the arteries supplying access to the proposed stadium.
  5. Parking is expected to be a significant problem. Already plans are underway to condemn the Gerst Haust Restaurant because the project planners know that they have insufficient parking space with the current plans. Let It Be Known We Do Not Object to The Scope of This Project, Just That We Simply Ask For The Respect Due Any Human Beings and That You Move Your Stadium To Another Location That Will Not Desecrate Native American Burials.

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