Sunday, January 18, 2009

Montague: Victory for Preservation of Native American Site at Proposed Airport Expansion

Since 2007, the discovery of piles of old stones near the proposed runway expansion of the small Turners Falls airport north of here has produced mystery and controversy. The issue now seems resolved.

The FAA and its archaeological expert argued that these were the remains of 19th-century wall, and the state historic preservation officer likewise doubted that the site merited inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.  Native American groups represented the Narragansett, Aquinnah-Wampanoag and Mashpee-Wampanoag tribes, by contrast, argued that the stones were remnants of a "sacred ceremonial hill."

According to the Boston Globe:
The history contained within this particular site was uncovered through an attempt to do additional work, [tribal Historic Preservation Officer John] Brown said. "When they cut the trees back on the ceremonial hill, it gave us a bird's-eye view of the magnitude of that site and its relationship to the other sites in the area that were already uncovered."

The tribes believe the stone feature is the central component of a "viewscape," an observation point for distant peaks and lakes to the south and west. And they provided evidence to the National Register that the stones mark celestial events.
The National Register, quoted here in the Greenfield Recorder, ultimately agreed:
''The site is central to the cosmology of the combined tribes and the traditions that have marked Native American sacred and ceremonial practices for numerous generations,'' according to a ruling from the keeper.
''Located in the middle of the Connecticut River region of New England, this site also possesses the potential to yield important information about traditional Native American practices, beliefs and sacred rituals.''
Reacting to the ruling from the National Register, John Brown, tribal historic preservation officer for the Narragansett Indian Tribe, said, ''From our point of view, we simply used modern science to confirm things we already knew from our own history about our own science. The technology of today confirmed the same technology from hundreds and thousands of years ago. The observations of today were no different than the ones we had then. We are not the simple folks that many people think tribes were.
Last fall, the FAA agreed to inclusion of the site on the National Register, and now, the government of Montague has voted to protect the hill from development.

• Arn Albertini, "Indian stones to be protected at Turners Falls airport," Greenfield Recorder, 6 Jan.

Reader comments in the Globe were generally favorable to the decision, though a few, sadly, made disparaging remarks about Native Americans or their alleged cynicism or mercenary behavior, prompting sharp responses from other readers.  Comments in the Greenfield Recorder, by contrast, although including one particularly nasty comment about Native Americans (from an out-of-stater), generally focused more on the merits of the airport project, as such.

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