Some people see caves as attractions, a place for tourism. But Stephanie Nutt, culture resources program coordinator at Fort Leonard Wood, explained natives of the land, such as the Osage Nation Native American Tribe, think of caves as a part of their lifestyle.
“Ninety-seven years ago the caves were used primarily for burial sites,” Nutt said. “In their cosmology and religious beliefs, earth and sky is the big thing. The caves represent a portal from their Gods from the sky to the earth.”
Nutt said her program respects the most of the caves preserving the tombs by keeping them sacred and untouched by non-archeologists. Her efforts focus more toward the tourists who visit sacred cave sites and tamper with the tombs and original archeology.
Government officials protect excavations since the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The law requires any institution with Native American findings to report to the Federal government the location of the item(s) and what tribe the findings belong to.
“We are the last line of defense to their sacred ancestors, their sacred places and what could possibly happen to that,” Nutt said. “I understand we [of Fort Leonard Wood] are considered family, and it’s our duty to protect what was originally their culture.”
Edited by Alicia Stice