Relics of the past

Native Americans rally to protect
Indian burial grounds near Austin

Property dispute complicates efforts by
archaeologists to investigate site

By Konnie McCollum
Contributing Writer

Native American Ceremony

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Native Americans take part in a drum
ceremony Jan. 27 at the site of an alleged
Indian burial mound near Austin, Ind.

AUSTIN, Ind. (February 2007) – A 145-acre farm located just west of Madison, Ind., has recently garnered attention as a possible Indian burial site that is being threatened by residential development. The farm, located at 2077 Terry Rd. near Hwy. 256 east of Austin, has been owned by Jerry Seaver’s family since Aug. 3, 1914. But it is now is in the center of a property rights battle that has landed in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago as part of a foreclosure case.
Despite the ongoing legal battle over who actually owns the property, Melissa Seaver, Jerry’s wife, has worked to get part of the farm classified as an official archaeological site until more research can be done to determine if it is indeed an Indian burial ground. According Melissa Seaver, the site now has been registered with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and has an archaeological site number. If so designated, this would protect it from being razed or desecrated by any construction or farming until further archaeological work is conducted. DNR officials in Indianapolis would not comment on the case or confirm that the site had been so classified because of the ongoing property ownership dispute.

Kevin and Jeannine Johanson with Jerry and Melissa Seavers

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Native Americans Kevin and
Jeannine Johanson present Jerry and
Melissa Seavers (center) with an Indian
blanket to thank them for their
efforts to protect the site.

A press conference to address the issue and an Indian pipe ceremony were held Jan. 27 at the site. Native Americans from a variety of tribes, including the Lakota Sioux, the Oglala Sioux, Cherokee, Miami and Pottawattamie gathered to participate in the spiritual ceremony to honor ancestors that may be buried on the grounds.
Seaver said throughout the years, the family would find bits and pieces of pottery or arrowheads around the large mounds of earth that are on the property. No one really paid much attention to it. She said when her husband was young, he would dig around what he referred to as “the bulldozed piles” and find Indian artifacts, which even included a tomahawk, but he didn’t realize the significance of those finds.
She realized about three years ago what those mounds could possibly contain and started at that point trying to get help from various agencies and authorities to look into the matter. “It has been a long process to try to get on a protection list to save the site,” she said.
Indians from all over the state gathered at the site in May 2006 to conduct a ceremony. They prayed for spiritual help, held a feast and did a ceremonial drum beat for hours, said Seaver.
Finally, last October, Louisville-based archaeologist Anne Bader visited the site and conducted a preliminary dig. According to Seaver, Bader was convinced by the evidence collected during the dig that the site may indeed contain Indian artifacts. She helped secure a DNR registered archaeology site number, according to Seaver.
Bader could not be reached for comment.

Native American medicine man Steve McCullough

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Native American
medicine man Steve McCullough leads a
ceremony Jan. 27 at
the Seavers’ farm
near Austin, Ind.

Seaver said the officials who visited the farm think the site may have been an entire village that ran along Flat Creek in Jennings Township in Scott County. She said archaeologists speculate that the artifacts are from a Miami Tribe living in the area during the 1500s or 1600s. There is also evidence to suggest that some of the artifacts are from the Shawnee Tribe and the Pottawattamies as well. More research could determine exactly how old the artifacts are and to whom they belonged.
Seaver also said the actual size of the area, according to the archaeologists, is much larger than first thought. “We thought there were only three mounds, but the experts see much more,” she said. Apparently, nearly four acres of the farm is thought to contain the Indian artifacts.
In the meantime, Seaver said there has been continued looting and vandalism to the mounds. “We have tried to guard against looters, and we have tried not to disturb the mounds,” she said.
According to Indiana archaeology law, no person can disturb archaeology sites with artifacts dating before Dec. 11, 1816, or human remains dating on or before Dec. 31, 1939, without an approved permit from the Indiana DNR.
Steve McCullough, a Lakota Sioux medicine man who took part in the January ceremony, said he believes the site is sacred and they need to work hard to save it.
“We appreciate the Seavers doing what they can to save this site from destruction because it is an important part of our ancestry,” he said.

Back to February 2007 Articles.



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