Alumni Spotlight on Dr. Sean Dunham

dunham1 I’m Sean Dunham and I am the Heritage Program Manager/Archaeologist at the Chippewa National Forest (CNF) as well as a triple alum of the MSU Anthropology Department (BA 1985, MA 2011, PhD 2014).  The CNF manages about 660,000 acres in north central Minnesota near the headwaters of the Mississippi River.  Serendipitously, I started working up here soon after my dissertation defense and have been enjoying living and working in the north woods!

There are about 3000 archaeological and historic sites within the boundaries of the CNF and we identify more sites every year.  These range from 10,000 year old Native American sites to twentieth century Forest Service buildings.  My primary responsibility is to ensure activities such as timber harvests or campground development do not impact those sites (as per the National Historic Preservation Act) and to work with other resource managers towards more integrated ecosystem management.

About 40 percent of the CNF land base falls within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation.  As a result, I work closely with the LLBO Tribal Historic Preservation Office as well as their Heritage Sites Program.  The CNF has had a long heritage partnership with LLBO going back to the late 1980s.  One of the projects we are currently working on is an archaeological survey which is part of a vegetation management project geared towards diversifying and protecting stands of ash trees from emerald ash borers, an invasive insect that has decimated ash populations throughout the Great Lakes region.  Ash fills an important ecological niche in the forest and is also important to the LLBO for making ash bark baskets. Projects like these have mutual significance to the LLBO and the CNF and reflect the link between heritage and natural resource management.

I also work with historic buildings associated with Forest Service and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) activities on the CNF.  The Supervisors Office, where I work, was built in 1936 by the CCC and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (see photo). We just put a new HVAC system in while maintaining the historic character of the building. We also have one of the most complete CCC camps in the US, Camp Rabideau, a National Historic Landmark.  Camp Rabideau, as well as myself, appeared in a video by Prairie Public Television on the CCC in Minnesota (Google it). Rabideau was recently stabilized and restored and we hope to find a partner who might be able to make use of this unique facility (let me know if you know anyone who is interested).

The highlight of my undergraduate experience, and the event that laid the groundwork for where I am today, was the archaeological field school at the Marquette Mission site in 1984. I’ve kept in touch with Dr. Lovis and recently enjoyed seeing him and Drs. O’Gorman and Goldstein as well as numerous other MSU affiliates at the Midwest Archaeological Conference in Milwaukee.

dunham2Top image: Dr. Dunham (on left) with Ken Sandi, the heritage program manager at Grey Towers National Historic Site.

Left image: The CNF Supervisors Office in 1953. Dr Dunham’s  office is the second floor window to the right.





This article appears in our Spring 2016 newsletter. Read the entire newsletter here.