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Courts told to respect Abenaki dead

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SWANTON, Vt. - Washington County Superior Court Judge Michael Katz has denied the request of the Abenaki Nation for an extended injunction to protect a historic burial ground from a developer, a court clerk confirmed.

No text of his decision was available at deadline.

"While the next steps are under consideration, the Abenaki are looking to long-term solutions which will require extended litigation and pressure on public policy to protect the entire burial ground beyond just these two building lots," Michael Straub, the tribe's lawyer said.

Hours before a temporary restraining order on digging near Monument Road was to expire, Straub petitioned Judge Katz to extend the order, in favor of ancestral religion not the developer.

"Desecration of burial grounds and disturbance of human remains is likely to occur, which damage cannot be adequately remedied at law, while the harm to defendants of any delay is purely economic and can be protected by bond, if necessary," Straub said.

Digging was set to resume on two lots in a 37-acre subdivision close to a separate site where the bones of an estimated 30 Abenaki ancestors were unearthed in May. The remains, recovered during a summer of sifting through bulldozed piles of earth, are soon to be reinterred, said April Rushlow, acting chief of the Sovereign Republic of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi, St. Francis/Sokoki Band. She couldn't set a date, but said they will be returned to the original site, purchased this summer by the state Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

Rushlow declined to comment on Katz' ruling until she could review the entire text. "All I can say is that we have a process to go through and I'll go through all the process I have to."

State Housing Commissioner Greg Brown recently met with Rushlow and officials of the three towns where Abenaki remains have been found. In an interview he maintained he has no legal power to stop construction.

During Katz' first two-week restraining order, the state Environmental Board denied the Abenaki request for an immediate stay on construction. Board Chairman Marcy Harding noted that winter was coming on and "any delay during the construction season can cause hardship" to the developer.

The board ordered a further hearing on the tribal request to revoke the construction permit for the site but has set no date. It also emphasized that its focus would be on whether the Abenaki had standing to challenge the permit first issued in 1979.

Straub maintains that the nation notified developer Michael Jedware at that time that he was building on sacred ground. The lots in question are the last of 20 on what is now called Tanglewood Road and Jedware Circle.

They are off Monument Road which runs through the towns of Swanton and Highgate and takes its name from a marker on the site of the first Jesuit mission in northern Vermont. It was founded in 1700 near a major village of the Missisquoi Abenaki.

State archaeologists have estimated that over several thousand years some 40,000 to 80,000 original inhabitants may have been buried on the 250-acre site.