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Descendants of Ohio's earliest people fight to save mounds

Posted by ErthAvengr to NDN AIM


Liz Sidoti Associated Press

Columbus - Mound Street runs through the state capital. Indian Mound Mall is a spot in Heath, Ohio. And Newark is home to the Moundbuilders Country Club.

The places and their names - symbolic as well as literal - are testaments to the state's rich American Indian legacy. It is a history that descendants say is increasingly disappearing as development disturbs Ohio's numerous American Indian burial and earthen mounds.

"There's no way to get back what's lost, but what we can do is try to preserve what's left," said Barry Landeros-Thomas, a member of the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio.

Descendants of American Indians say most mounds in Ohio have been disturbed, so they are fighting to protect the limited, albeit unknown, number that remain untouched.

American Indian burial mounds on public property are protected by federal law. However, there are no laws protecting those on private land, where many are located.

A state legislative committee is examining how Ohio could better preserve such burial grounds as well as cemeteries, but a lack of state money is likely to hinder development of such a preservation program.

Franco Ruffini, a state preservation officer, said protecting American Indian mounds is difficult because many are unmarked. Thus, developers sometimes are unaware that they are disturbing sacred land.

"Sometimes they are inadvertently disturbed by sprawl," Ruffini said. "It's a complex issue."

The mounds, some that include remains, were created thousands of years ago by various tribes. American Indians say they are proof of legends their ancestors told and offer glimpses into the lives of Ohio's original inhabitants.

"Mounds are part of a very rich, deep and complex history of native people that's tens of thousands of years old," said Landeros-Thomas, who is of Cherokee and Lumbee ancestry. "But they've been bulldozed over, dug under or manicured into an 18th green."

Since 1910, the private Moundbuilders Country Club has leased part of the Octagon Earthworks in Newark for use as a golf course. The property was purchased with public money in 1893 and eventually was turned over to the Ohio Historical Society, which still owns the ancient mounds. The country club's lease expires in 2078.

It is believed the Hopewell people built the 8-foot-high earthen mounds, which were not used for burials, about 1,650 years ago in an octagon connected to a perfect circle to identify lunar movements for religious and other ceremonies.

The club says it restricts public access to the mounds during golfing season because of safety concerns.

Visitors are supposed to view the site from a wooden stand near the parking lot or from a short trail that borders one side of the course. The club also offers a few golf-free days to accommodate those wanting to pray at the site.

However, the Historical Society and club officials are considering ways to improve access, such as additional paths or viewing towers.

In November, Barbara Crandell, 73, of Thornville, was convicted of trespassing for praying at a mound there in June. The Cherokee descendant says she has prayed there for 20 years.

Crandell, a member of the Native American Alliance of Ohio, argues that the land is public and she has a right to be there as a descendant of the people who built the mounds.

She said that many Ohio mounds that were at one time American Indian graveyards now are piles of dirt. She blames archeologists.

"The remains aren't in there anymore. They're up on a shelf at the Historical Society and at universities, probably in shoeboxes," she said. "How about just letting us bury our dead? How about just leaving the graves alone?"

2003 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.

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