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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 21, 2004 - Issue 107


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American Indian burial site's fate debated

by Joe E. Carmean Jr. and Ben Penserga - Salisbury (MD) Daily Times Staff Writers

SALISBURY -- As archaeologists decide what to do about a newly discovered American Indian burial ground near Pemberton Park, some members of Lower Shore tribes are weighing how to best preserve the memories of their ancestors.

On Tuesday, construction crews discovered human remains believed to be members of a former American Indian tribe, according to Salisbury University officials.

Ed Otter, lead archaeologist on the site, said construction of the house where the remains were found has been stopped while state officials and local American Indian groups decide what should happen to the burial ground.

"We have to be sensitive to the desires of the Native Americans," he said.

Otter declined to comment further on the project.

Sewell Winterhawk, the chief and tribal chairman of the Nause-Waiwash Band of Indian People, said Thursday that he has already been in contact with the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs.

"Conversations are going on," he said.

Winterhawk said his tribe is the remnants of Monie Indians who lived on the Lower Shore but fled south to the marshes in the early 1700s.

"I'm just hoping people will be respectful enough not to go on the site until we have discussed our course of action," he said. "There are people out there who collect things, and I have seen sites like this before where people have disturbed the site and removed relics."

Charles Clark, a Nanticoke Indian from Sussex County, said Thursday that discoveries such as the one near Pemberton Park always draw several different groups, ranging from scientists to people representing American Indian interests.

"When this happens it's like a button has been pushed and the machine starts," he said.

While federal and state laws can protect sites when public construction is involved, Clark said private development is different. "When it's private it's up to the conscience of the individual," he said.

James Trader of the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites said Thursday that Wicomico County ordinances do not protect historical burial sites.

"There is no requirement in the zoning ordinance requiring work to stop to allow documentation and research," he said. "It's something I've been trying to get changed for over five years."

Trader also said the Maryland Historical Trust is alerted when such a site is discovered.

"If the property owner gives permission they can explore the site," he said. "(American) Indians have some federal protection for their burial sites and the state programs are usually patterned after that."

But, until Wicomico County officials change their attitude about historical discovery, Trader said, fewer sites are going to be available to study.

Becky Miller, director of the Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History & Culture at Salisbury University, said she has been following the discovery closely.

"If they excavate the site we might be able to get custody of some artifacts," she said.

Pottery shards, weapons and tools would make great additions to the facilities display, but Miller said she respects leaving things as they are.

"On the Lower Shore there are many Indian burial sites, but people don't know about them and they shouldn't," she said. "Those sites shouldn't be disturbed. It's hallowed ground."

With growing development on the Lower Shore, Clark said it is inevitable that people will find more remains, something that American Indians never considered hundreds of years ago.

"When these people were buried, it was never intended to have their graves desecrated," he said.

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