Indigenous activists are demanding that the University of South Florida immediately place warning signs around looted Native American graves in the USF Forest Preserve, after nearly a year of demanding more protections for the site.
The group’s signaling request comes after continued evidence of grave robbing and what local Native Americans see as an inadequate USF response to their demands for more protections.
In the following months USF Information Request (RFI) to develop the reserve in April 2021, there has been an increase in the looting of sacred burial mounds, a practice that has occurred intermittently on the property for decades.
In June of last year, the Florida Indigenous Alliance (FIA) called for more protections. This year, USF abandoned its attempt to develop the reserve through the RFI. But the group says the site is still vulnerable because the USF has not made it clear to grave robbers that they are not welcome.
“We have previously asked USF to place signs on the forest preserve stating that grave robbing is illegal in Florida,” the FIA wrote in a statement. “We showed them that the site was looted multiple times after USF issued the RFI, and they had months to procure and place the signs. For a trivial amount of money, they can finally start to show that they intend to protect curial sites on the reservation, and so far the USF has failed to even do so.”
Florida Statute 872.05, Florida Unmarked Human Graves Act, prohibited from disturbing or looting unmarked Aboriginal burial sites. the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act further protects Aboriginal cemeteries.
The FIA wants signs around the area to express this, so grave robbers can be properly warned that they are facing charges for desecration of the site.
The FIA credited USF for sending a campus police officer with them last year to investigate the scene. That’s when USF police told the group it was harder to press charges against grave robbers without warning signs being present.
Evidence of looters, including a small saw and hammerhead, chairs, debris and trash, are still found throughout the area. Not only does the litter disrespect the sacred site, but it also endangers the wildlife in the area.
Regular Native American grave robberies occur across the country, despite the laws that protect them. Experts say anti-native racism causes looters to disrespect the graves of their ancestors. Grave robbers are rarely prosecuted by law enforcement.
CL contacted USF and USFPD communications teams with questions about why signage was not posted in the area, nearly a year after the FIA asked for more protections .
“The USF Police Department continues to take action to help protect the native human burial site located on the North Fletcher property,” wrote Audrey G. Clarke, public information representative for the USFPD. in an email. “In partnership with other law enforcement agencies, the USFPD stands ready to pursue any leads and pursue criminal prosecution of anyone who engages in disrupting the burial site. To do this, we do not believe it is appropriate to discuss or disclose investigative systems or strategies.
The agency did not respond to questions about whether they could press charges against the looters without the signs being posted, but said the agency had not heard of any damage or disruption at the site. since CL last investigated the situation three months ago.
Last year, the USFPD said the looting became an active investigation in May 2021, as soon as the department discovered significant looting had occurred. At the time, the USFPD said it was working in coordination with “other state and local agencies to assess the extent of the damage and determine further investigative actions.”
The department said it was aware of the FIA’s request for additional security and was working with USF leaders to “consider appropriate next steps to restrict unauthorized access and discourage further damage.”
Yet, almost a year later, the FIA is still asking that their small signaling request be met.
The FIA says if USF refuses to take more action to protect the sites in the future, the group will take matters into their own hands.
“We cannot tolerate the continued looting of these sites, and we will act to protect the gravesites,” the FIA wrote.