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Indian Grave Desecration

Associated Press - October 17, 2002

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) - The federal government is questioning plans to build a community at Lake Keowee in Pickens County because planned dredging could endanger preservation of a Cherokee village containing human remains.

The U.S. Department of the Interior wants to intervene, saying the proposal to remove about 3,300 cubic yards of sediment from the bottom of the lake could disturb human remains, objects and structures ``of great importance to Cherokee peoples and to the United States.''

The motion is contained in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission documents obtained by The Greenville News.

Dredging would provide safe access for boats trying to reach previously approved docks serving the Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards subdivision, the documents say. Boat access is difficult when water levels are low.

Developer Jim Anthony said he didn't know Indian remains were near the subdivision. Anthony said he will call federal officials to get help determining exactly where the remains are located.

``We'd be the first ones to want to protect them,'' Anthony said. ``That, quite frankly, would probably be as advantageous to our development as anything else, having authentic Indian burial grounds.''

If federal officials don't want the dredging, ``then we won't do it,'' he said.

Duke Energy Corp., which owns the land under the lake, proposed the permit for the subdivision.

FERC must approve the project because of its potential impact on water quality, fish habitat and shorelines, said Celeste Miller, an agency spokeswoman.

The agency is accepting comments about the proposed dredging, she said.

Duke says it will work with state officials to determine what should be done with the Indian remains.

``As we've purchased property for generating facilities or any other related facility for Duke and have identified or uncovered Indian artifacts, we have proceeded by state guidelines,'' Duke spokeswoman Guynn Savage said.

Cherokee Chief Gene Norris of Greenville said the remains shouldn't be disturbed.

``Leave those people where they are,'' he said. ``What purpose is it going to serve for them to dig up sediment?''

Norris is chief of the Piedmont American Indian Association - Lower Eastern Cherokee Nation of South Carolina.

Norris said his people, even though they are not a federally recognized tribe, should be notified of any activity affecting former tribal lands in the South Carolina foothills.

More than a dozen of the 309 Indian remains that are in state custody were unearthed in 1967 when Duke Power Co. stripped the Keowee-Toxaway basin to create Lake Keowee.

Tribal leaders want those remains returned for proper burial. Gov. Jim Hodges has asked Interior Secretary Gale Norton to help clear bureaucratic hurdles set up by federal law that requires tribes to be federally recognized and to prove ancestral heritage. Most of the remains held by the state are unidentifiable.

Disposition of the remains is governed by the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which requires the state to consult with all potentially related Indian groups before deciding the appropriate custodian. That includes 21 federally recognized tribes outside South Carolina, in addition to numerous groups within the state. The Keowee-Toxaway remains might never be tied with certainty to the Cherokee, even though that was the tribe inhabiting the region at the time of European contact.

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