Marksville, Tunica-Biloxi to discuss future of Indian Mounds Park

State gave park back to city in August

Attorneys for the City of Marksville and the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe will be meeting to develop an agreement for the future of the archaeologically-important prehistoric Indian site.

The issue was discussed at the City Council meeting on Sept. 9, but was tabled with not action to be taken until a proposed agreement has been reached for final approval.

Tribal Chairman Marshall Pierite and other tribal officials attended the meeting to discuss the possibility of the Marksville State Historic Site being donated to the tribe. If that happened, the tribe would maintain the grounds and buildings, possibly make improvements to the site and operate it as a public park and museum

Any agreement would probably include a provision that the site be returned to city ownership if it ceased being a public park/museum -- similar to the clause in the city's donation of the site to the state many years ago.

On Aug. 20, after years of budget woes that saw the park closed, the state triggered that clause by deciding it would likely never be able to operate it as a park and historic site tourist attraction. Paperwork returning the park to city ownership was finalized that day.

Mayor John Lemoine said the logical move would be to turn the park over to the Tunica-Biloxi. The tribe has expressed an interest in the site since the state cut back hours of operation at the site and then finally closed it.

"We want the park returned to public use like it once was," Lemoine said. "The city doesn't have the money to operate and maintain it as a park and museum, the way the state had done for many years."

For many years prior to the axe falling, visitation at the site had fallen off. Archaeologists in the state remained supporters of the Marksville Mounds park, but the general public seemed to have lost interest.

For the past few years, the park has been closed to the public except on a "by appointment" basis. The Marksville site had no staff, but periodically had staff and maintenance employees from other state parks come to the site.

The federally recognized tribe, which owns Paragon Casino Resort and several other business ventures, may not be able to trace its roots to the Marksville Culture inhabitants of the famous burial mound site. However, the tribe includes descendants of not only the Tunica and the Biloxi, but also smaller tribes such as the Ofo and Avoyel who were living in this area when the first Europeans arrived in the 1500s.

There are other Native American groups that have not received federal or national recognition as a sovereign tribe that have also expressed interest in operating and maintaining the site.

The Tunica-Biloxi seem to be the best choice because the tribe has access to federal funds and grants for such ventures, as well as having income from its businesses that could possibly be used to pay for improvements.

One possible improvement that has been discussed in the past has been to create a new entrance to the park, coming off La. Hwy 1, instead of the round-about path needed to get to the entrance on Martin Luther King Drive, which brings traffic through a residential area.

After returning the park to the city, State Parks Director Brandon Burris also said he "would not be surprised" if the park was turned over to the Tunica-Biloxi, noting the tribe has been discussing that possibility for several years.

The 42-acre site on an Old River bluff is a unique and important example of prehistoric Native American culture. The site gives its name to similar peoples living throughout the region. Archaeologists say the local community was a southern relative to the Hopewell Culture found in Ohio, Illinois and other Midwest and Northeast states.

The first major archaeological work at the site was in the 1920s. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964, a designation reserved only for sites of special or significant importance in American history.

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