Monday, May 26, 1997
Indian remains reburied
Construction turned them up 3 years ago

BY LUCY MAY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CROSBY TOWNSHIP - With the slice of a blade Sunday, Chief White Bear kept a promise he made three years ago to himself and to people who lived 950 years ago.

When the remains of about 25 Indians were unearthed during a construction project near here three years ago, the chief promised that he would not cut his hair until they were returned to earth.

On Sunday, he kept the promise, cutting off his top knot during a reburial ceremony at the former Fernald uranium processing site and offering it as a gift to the ancestors.

"It is one of our jobs," said the chief, whose English name is Oliver Collins and who presides over a tribe in West Portsmouth, Ohio. "It's one of the things we love to do because it really needs to be done on a mass scale."

The ceremony marked the first time Indian remains found on private land have been reburied on federal soil for protection purposes, said Tricia Thompson, spokeswoman of Fluor Daniel Fernald, the government contractor hired to clean up the site.

The remains were unearthed in 1994 and 1995 during a federal construction project in Crosby Township.

They date to about 1050 A.D., but experts are not sure to which tribe they belong, said Gary Stegner, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees the Fernald site.

Seventeen American Indian nations lived in or passed through the Ohio Valley in the 18th and 19th centuries. By 1450, the Shawnees had established camps in most of Northern Kentucky and southern Ohio. After decades of struggle, they faced their ultimate defeat in November 1811, when William Henry Harrison attacked their headquarters on the Tippecanoe River and burned their town to the ground.

The reburial was required under the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act. It says remains or burial artifacts possessed by museums or institutions that receive federal money or remains uncovered on federal land or during federal construction projects must be reburied or stored according to tribal wishes.

Part of the reason it took three years to rebury the remains was the complex navigation through federal rules and regulations that had to be done, said Joe Schomaker, Fluor Daniel Fernald's cultural resources manager.

It also took time to negotiate with all the tribes with an interest in what happened to the remains, he said.

Since the origin of the remains could not be determined, government officials contacted the Shawnee, Miami, Seneca, Delaware and Wyandot tribes and the Native American Alliance of Ohio.

The tribes picked the Fernald site because the graves will be on protected property and close to where the remains were unearthed. The tribes requested that the exact location not be identified, Ms. Thompson said.

The remains included those of three females ages 2, 13 and 30; and those of a 16-year-old male who was buried with a dog. There also were partial remains of 16 to 20 other people.

About 100 people were to take part in the ceremony. Several members of the audience cried as tribal leaders, dressed in traditional attire, performed the centuries-old burial rites in their native tongue. Because the participants consider the ritual sacred, reporters could not watch it.

Mr. Collins, co-chairman of the Native American Alliance of Ohio, said the alliance is pushing House Bill 429 in Columbus, which would change the definition of a cemetery to include American Indians. That, Mr. Collins said, would help American Indians protect the graves of their ancestors.

"Would you like it if your mother's remains were in a box on a shelf somewhere?" asked Beagle Billock, business manager of the Northeast U.S. Miami International Tribal Council. "It's so the people can be at rest."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.