Cahokia Mounds national park status legislation reintroduced

COLLINSVILLE – Efforts to establish national park status for the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site and allied areas have restarted with the reintroduction of accompanying bills in the U.S. House and Senate.

Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, and Senator Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, have passed legislation to establish national park status for the Cahokia Mounds state historic site. The Cahokia Mounds and Mississippian Culture National Historic Park would include hills in Counties Madison, St. Clair, and Monroe, and the Sugarloaf Mound in St. Louis. The park would be managed jointly between the park service and local stakeholders.

Local groups have been working to drive this since 2016, and in 2019, Bost introduced laws to establish the Historic National Park.

However, the bill was never put to the vote.

On Monday, Bost and Durbin announced the reintroduction of the bills in the new congressional session.

“Southern Illinois is home to one of the greatest civilizations in American history,” said Bost in a written statement. “Cahokia was the largest city and center in old Mississippi. Cahokia and the associated hills in the region are an important part of our history. If we integrate them into our national park system, we can preserve this history for future generations. “

Durbin repeated that.

“Cahokia Mounds is a major natural, archaeological and cultural landmark that represents the indigenous peoples and landscapes that once made up America’s first cities in the western hemisphere,” Durbin said in a written statement. “With this bill to update the historical designation of the site, we can take another step forward by recognizing Cahokia Mounds as a cultural asset and providing the necessary protection to ensure the site is protected for generations to come.”

Cahokia Mounds was the center of North American hill-building culture and peaked around AD 1200. However, within 200 years, the city and surrounding villages were largely abandoned for unknown reasons.

Today about 70 hills, starting from Monk’s Mound or the Temple Mound to many smaller hills above the 2,200 hectare park.

Over the years, many of the hills in the St. Louis area have disappeared. In St. Louis, historically known as “Mound City,” all that remains is Sugar Loaf Mound.

Other areas include Mitchell, East St. Louis and Fairmont City, where work on the Stan Musial Bridge led to archaeological digs in the former National City Stockyards. The work resulted in significant finds and was the largest archaeological dig in the United States for several years.

According to archaeologists, the importance of the area is that most Native Americans along the Mississippi would never have seen more than 50-100 people, a small farming community or village at a time. On their journey along the river, they would have come to the area between present-day St. Louis and East St. Louis and discovered a town of about 3,000 people on the west side of the river and a town of about 5,000 people to the east. If they went east, they would have come to Cahokia with about 15,000 people.

Cahokia Mounds is operated by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. If the historic park designation is approved, the entire park will be jointly operated by state, local, and federal agencies.

Belleville-based Heartlands Conservancy pushed for designation in 2016 as part of its The Mounds: America’s First Cities initiative.

“I appreciate the dedication of HeartLands Conservancy and all of our state and local leaders who have worked tirelessly to make these efforts a reality,” said Bost.

“These accompanying bills are almost identical to the 2019 bills and are aimed at identifying the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and several surrounding hills as a unit of the national park system using a partnership model,” said Mary Vandevord, President and CEO the Heartlands Conservancy. “The bills also aim to give indigenous peoples access to spiritual practices and expressions.

“We would like to thank the Senator and Representative for their guidance and perseverance in ensuring that Cahokia Mounds and Mississippi culture receive the national recognition this sacred landscape deserves,” she added.

In 2019, both Madison and St. Clair counties passed resolutions in support of the designation.

In addition to its state historic site status, Cahokia Mounds is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a National Historic Landmark, and on the National Register of Historic Places. According to some archaeologists, this entire region from the Koster site near Kampsville to the Cahokia Hills is considered to be archaeologically significant like the Nile Valley in Egypt.

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