Local woman labors to bring back ancestors' remains
By Don Springer
Charleston Gazette, December 6, 2001
This is the fourth of five articles dealing with the return of 664 Native American remains to their original burial sites near Buffalo, Putnam County
"It's morning, as the sun breaks through the river fog to shine its warmth down upon the earth below. It rained the night before and now the smell of the freshly plowed field fills your senses. Your eyes search the mounds of dirt for that small flicker of light, reflecting off of that precious gift you're out there hoping to find. You know they're out there. Year after year that same field has been plowed and year after year you can still find them. Offerings from a time past. A time when the river ran wild against the shoals."
Maggie Crawford, a Native American descendent, penned those words while writing about the need to return nearly 664 of her ancestors' remains to their original burial site. She sometimes gets emotional in her discussions. This might be the natural reaction others would have if they knew their ancestors had been disinterred, tests run on their remains, and then remained in boxes and plastic bags on three different college campuses for nearly 40 years. One might understand the original digs and testing to learn from the years gone by but when considering the next 30 years or so justification seems difficult.
"It was clear and clean and the fish and the mussels could be caught and eaten. The forest was virgin, the trees huge and ancient. The sky held the Creator's artwork of colors, not the strange smells and hues of the chemical plants. The original people of this land knew how special this place was, this place now known as Buffalo. They had chosen this place to live for thousands of years before the European contact."
"Archaeologists have found indications of habitation dating to the late Archaic period 1920-250 BC, up to as recent as the 1600s Fort Ancient People. These are the People who the earth keeps offering up reminders of their existence and importance year after year, precious gift after gift ... And now it's time to hear them, to acknowledge them and to give back to them the dignity and respect due all our ancestors."
She continues, "... The town of Buffalo and the Buffalo Historical Society are proposing a historical park, education center and burial area be established at the original Buffalo Village site. This site has been on the National Register since 1971. We need to bring the remains ... home, back to the earth where they once rested ... We (those buried) put a human face with every arrowhead that's been found. Every piece of pottery, every scraper and point. It's their way of saying, 'I was here, please don't forget me, and please bring us home again.'"
Maggie Crawford is doing her part to make this happen. She has petitioned AEP to donate the property to the town of Buffalo and its historical group; she has contacted Putnam County officials for assistance, she is working with the Historical Preservation Office at the W Va. Culture and Arts Department, she has contacted Native American tribes for support, and she has developed a team dedicated to this project. It would also appear the Native American descendants contacted by Maggie for support are overwhelmingly in her corner.
That is not to say there are not detractors. There are detractors out there. Again, not concerning the reburial but "the how" part of carrying it out. The Native American detractors say, "There are too many Anglos involved, this is an Indian issue" ... "This is not the Indian way of handling burials. Burials should be in private, in unmarked graves" ... "The educational center and established visiting areas smack of tourism and that isn't right" ... "We need to have the Shawnee or Cherokee Nation involved."
Some of these persons were critical of this writer for putting this series together and publicizing the matter further.
These comments are not being overlooked, as Crawford says she is committed to make this an effort of which all Native Americans can be proud and that all non-Indians can utilize the site as a place of learning and understanding of the Indians who resided near the waters of the Great Kanawha in another time.
Secrecy Not Option
On the item of burial secrecy, Joanne Wilson of the W Va. Historical Preservation Office perhaps said it best, "With more than 600 native remains involved, it isn't going to happen. Too many people know, are involved, and the project too large for the secrecy concern to be successful."
"As the area known as Buffalo continues to grow, the need to preserve its past is critical," says Crawford. "With the donation of this property by AEP (not yet a sure thing) ... to the Town of Buffalo and The Buffalo Historical Society, that preservation can begin. That is our hope. Let us always remember and let us answer the cries in the wind."
© 2001 Don Springer. All rights reserved. Used with permission
Don Springer may be reached on the Internet at firstname.lastname@example.org
CWVA's Introduction to the Buffalo Village Series
Part 1: Obstacles hamper return of Native American remains to Buffalo
Part 2: Many hands involved in excavating remains
Part 3: Remains transported state to state for study
Part 4: Local woman labors to bring back ancestors' remains
Part 5: Buffalo pastor, councilman strive to bring back remains
Part 6: Positive and negative feedback on the 'Remains' series