Monday, January 6, 2003

Part of Indian legacy lost

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Mound Street runs through the state capital. Indian Mound Mall is a spot in Heath. 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 native 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.

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 will 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," Mr. 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.

Since 1910, the private Moundbuilders Country Club has leased part of the Octagon Earthworks in Newark for use as a golf course.

It is believed the Hopewell tribe 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.

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

Ms. Crandell, a member of the Native American Alliance, 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 and she blames archaeologists.

"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?"

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