Delaware Tribe requests archaeological survey of Lawrence site before mental health project proceeds
photo by: Nick Krug
Plans call for 10 cottages to be built on a site in northern Lawrence, but before a hammer is swung or a wall raised, the Delaware Tribe that once inhabited the area has asked that surveyors look below the ground.
Delaware Tribe historians say there could be archaeological and human remains on the site, and they have requested that an archaeological field survey that includes subsurface testing be conducted before the project goes forward.
The cottages are part of the much-anticipated Douglas County behavioral health campus, which includes a mental health crisis center and additional supportive housing. Even with the city built up around the site on two sides, the mostly empty tract of land in northern Lawrence remains distinctive — the site looks toward a pond encircled by trees on one side and a bend in the Kansas River on the other. Delaware Tribe Historic Preservation Office Director Brice Obermeyer told the Journal-World that the entire site, not just the portion set aside for the cottages, may be archaeologically sensitive.
“Obviously, we’re making the request because we’re concerned about the location,” Obermeyer said.
Obermeyer said the Delaware lived in northeast Kansas for 30 years and that members of the tribe died and were buried there. He said that the tribe knows where those burial sites are but that he was not comfortable providing their specific locations. He did say that the tribe already knows of one cemetery that exists in the Lawrence area.
The Delaware lived in Northeast Kansas beginning in the 1830s after being forcibly removed from their ancestral home near the Delaware River. In the 1860s, the Delaware were forced to give up their Kansas reservation lands and move to Oklahoma. The tribe is now based in Bartlesville, but the preservation office is located in Emporia and the tribe now owns a 92-acre site just northeast of Lawrence.
The mental health project
The proposed cottages, The Cottages at Green Lake, are one component of the county’s behavioral health campus. The cottages would consist of a 10-unit supportive housing complex located next to the proposed mental health crisis center and a proposed supportive group home at 1000 W. Second St. In November, Douglas County voters overwhelmingly approved a quarter-cent sales tax to fund the behavioral health campus, and money from the city’s affordable housing fund is going to support the group home.
Obermeyer requested that the archaeological survey be conducted following a notification about the project from the City of Lawrence. Though it is a county project, the city is in charge of the federally required environmental review, which includes a historic preservation review. That review requires the city to notify certain Indian tribes, including the Delaware.
The environmental review is required because of the use of federal funding. The Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority has proposed using federal Housing and Urban Development funds to lease the cottage units from the county, according to a city memo. The project is meant to address the shortage of housing and treatment for those with severe and persistent mental illness who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in Douglas County.
County Administrator Assistant Jill Jolicoeur told the Journal-World that the archaeological field survey will be done as soon as possible. Jolicoeur said that she has requested that interested firms or organizations submit their proposals by March 1, and the survey itself would be conducted soon after in order to keep the process moving.
If artifacts or remains are found
There are both state and federal laws governing Indian artifacts and cemeteries.
Kansas Historic Preservation Office Archaeologist Tim Weston said the archaeological survey would involve making small holes in the ground on a consistent grid to see if any artifacts or remains were under the surface. Weston said if archaeological remains, such as pottery fragments or stone tools, are located, then there would be another phase to determine whether the archaeological site is significant. He said that determination is rare and based on the eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.
If human remains are discovered, the process would fall under the Kansas Unmarked Burials Act, which makes it illegal to disturb unmarked burials and prohibits the possession or display of human remains and artifacts from unmarked burials, according to the Kansas Historical Society website.
A Kansas Historical Society board handles decisions regarding what to do with remains. The unmarked burial sites preservation board consults with interested parties to determine the proper course of action, according to the law. The nine-member board consists of the state archaeologist, an anthropologist, a historian, two members of the public and four tribal representatives.
State Archaeologist and board member Bob Hoard said that in his approximately 20 years on the board, there has been cooperation between parties and developers. Specifically, he said that developers have redesigned projects around remains if a tribe requests that the remains not be disturbed.
“We work as a board to come to a decision, in this instance, to try to preserve the remains in place,” Hoard said. “That’s always our first intent, is if we can leave the human remains alone, we do.”
For example, Hoard said a Delaware grave was found in Wyandotte County in the middle of a proposed residential development and the development redesigned the project around the grave. He said a fence and a sign to identify the grave were also added. In another instance, he said prehistoric remains that are believed to be from the Wichita were found in Rice County on the site of a proposed water treatment plant, and the plant was also redesigned so the remains would not be disturbed.
Jolicoeur said the survey would cover both elements of the current site plan, which includes the cottages and the group home. She said that once the survey is complete, the results will be sent to the tribe and the board, and that the county would consult with the board about what action to take.
Obermeyer said that if the survey does indicate there are human remains on the site in northern Lawrence, the tribe does not want the remains to be disturbed. If such a discovery is made as part of the upcoming archaeological survey, he said his hope would be that the project would be built somewhere else or redesigned to account for the cemetery.
“I would say leave them there,” Obermeyer said. “If you found a cemetery, wouldn’t you want to leave it there?”