COLLINSVILLE — An effort to establish national park status for Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site and related areas has started again with the reintroduction of companion bills in the U.S. House and Senate.
State Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, have introduced legislation to establish national park status for Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. The Cahokia Mounds and Mississippian Culture National Historic Park would include mounds in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties, as well as Sugarloaf Mound in St. Louis. The park would be jointly managed between the park service and local stakeholders.
Local groups have been working since 2016 to move this forward, and in 2019 Bost introduced legislation to establish the national historic park.
On Monday Bost and Durbin announced the reintroduction of the bills in the new session of Congress.
"Southern Illinois is home to one of American history's greatest civilizations," Bost said in a written statement. "Cahokia was the largest city and center of the ancient Mississippian people. Cahokia and the associated mounds sites in the region are a critical part of our history and incorporating them into our national park system will help us preserve this history for generations to come."
"Cahokia Mounds is an important natural, archaeological, and culture 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 site's historical designation, we can take another step forward in recognizing Cahokia Mounds as the cultural asset it is and offer the necessary protections to ensure the site is protected for generations to come."
Cahokia Mounds was the center of the North American mound-building culture, reaching its height by about C.E. 1200. However, within 200 years the city and surrounding villages were largely abandoned for unknown reasons.
Today about 70 mounds, ranging from Monk's Mound, or the Temple Mound, to many smaller mounds over the 2,200 acre park.
Over the years many of the mounds in the St. Louis region have disappeared. In St. Louis, historically known as "Mound City," only Sugar Loaf Mound remains.
Other areas include Mitchell, East St. Louis and Fairmont City, where work on the Stan Musial Bridge prompted archaeological excavations in the former National City Stockyards. The work resulted in major finds and for several years was the largest archaeological dig in the United States.
According to archaeologists, the significance of the area is most Native Americans along the Mississippi River would have never seen more than 50-100 people, a small farming community or village, at one time. Traveling 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 on the west side of the river, and a town of about 5,000 on the east. Going east they would have entered Cahokia, with about 15,000 people.
Cahokia Mounds is run by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. If the historic park designation is approved, the entire park would be jointly run by state, local and federal agencies.
The Belleville-based Heartlands Conservancy began pushing for the designation in 2016 through 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 been working tirelessly to make this effort a reality," Bost said.
"These companion bills are nearly identical to the bills from 2019 and seek to elevate Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and several surrounding mound sites as a unit of the National Park system using a partnership model," said Mary Vandevord, president and CEO of the Heartlands Conservancy. "The bills further seek to provide access to Indigenous people for spiritual practices and expressions.
"We would like to thank the senator and representative for their leadership and persistence in ensuring Cahokia Mounds and the Mississippian 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 is on the National Register of Historic Places. According to some archaeologists, this entire region from the Koster Site near Kampsville to Cahokia Mounds is considered as archaeologically significant as the Nile Valley in Egypt.
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