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Tuesday, October 29, 2002

By David Lore


Next year's bicentennial will see renewed debate over what role Ohio government should play in protecting American Indian burial sites.

Ohio law is weak in regard to the maintenance and preservation of cemeteries, especially abandoned pioneer or family plots.

The situation is even worse with unmarked Indian graves. "Many states now do have these protections, but in Ohio anyone can dig up a prehistoric cemetery or mound site on private property,'' said Brian Redmond, president of the Ohio Archaeological Council.

In a report last month to the legislature, the Ohio Historic Preservation Office said the consensus at a Sept. 16 policy forum was that Ohio fails to show respect for the dead.

There are penalties for violating burial sites on public land. And four years ago, a law was passed to prohibit the desecration of Indian burial sites on private property. Exempted, however, were landowners or those acting with their permission.

In March, an Ohio House select committee on historical preservation urged the Ohio Historical Society to mend fences and get agreement on graves preservation. This means forging compromises among:

* Archaeologists, who want access to Indian sites for research, as well as to human remains and grave artifacts already in museum collections.

* American Indian heritage groups in Ohio, as well as federally recognized tribes long removed from Ohio. Although there are disagreements, American Indians and their descendants generally want burial sites undisturbed and mortuary collections released for reburial.

* The 2,500- to 3,000-member Archaeological Society of Ohio, mostly amateur archaeologists and collectors who oppose any restrictions on gathering or selling artifacts found on the surface or in plowed fields.

The collectors boycotted the Sept. 16 meeting, viewing it as too dominated by American Indian groups, said President Brian Foltz of Westerville. Instead, Foltz said his group is pushing for repeal of the 1998 desecration law.

Into this tug-of-war steps historical society CEO Rachel Tooker, who hopes to get these disparate groups pulling together.

If Tooker can find compromise here, she deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

David Lore is science reporter for The Dispatch.

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