Last Susquehanna site spared from development

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LOWER WINDSOR, Pa. - Plans to disturb Susquehanna burial sites at what may have been the nation's last occupancy in Pennsylvania were voted down by Lower Windor Township supervisors on May 8.

"The township is looking into the possibility of purchasing the property or facilitating its purchase to have it protected," said township Manager Donald L. Keener.

The plans submitted by Archie C. Kohr targeted more than 200 graves and would have built 584 housing units on 334 acres of the 400-acre Lauxmont Farm, bringing in an estimated 1,500 people, an additional 176,000 gallons of discharge from the local sewage plant into Canadochly Creek, add 1,200 vehicles to the back country roads and increase taxes an average of $141.61 to accommodate new students.

Two additional plans proposing 205 single-family units and 78 townhouses for another portion of the farm have not yet been voted.

Awareness of the plans was raised by the Susquehanna River Hills Task Force (SRHTF), a group of residents, who began a campaign of public awareness to save the riverside lands.

"We do not want the Kohrs to lose anything," said Paul Nevin, SRHTF Native American contact. "We just want to make sure that these sites are saved. Hopefully we will be able to work together to assure this."

Nevin met with Danawa Buchanan, founder of Protection of Native American Sites, (PRONAS) a non-profit Georgia-based corporation founded in 1992. Since then, four lawsuits have been filed to protect sites.

"If the Susquehanna plans had been approved, we were ready to notify tribes and work the pow wows to collect funds for a lawsuit," Buchanan said.

Buchanan, from the Kituah Band of Cherokee in Tennessee, stood before the Board and said, "You can arrest me, I'm ready to go to your jail. But in an hour two other Native Americans will be here. You can arrest them. In another hour, two more will come, and two more after that, until your jails won't hold us."

Threatened with the National Guard, she said, "National Guard for someone wanting to visit graves?"

"If I'm going to bring flowers, visit a grave, cry awhile, it's ok," she said. "But if I want to bring stones, play a drum, do a ceremony, I can't."

That's religious discrimination, she said. "We'll be in court Monday at 9 a.m. asking for a restraining order. Show us an act of honor," she said.

Quoting federal and state laws, NAGPRA and State Preservation law, Buchanan also spoke out for the ancestors and for the Kohrs. Bankruptcy in 1989 led to the $17 million plans.

"We like to come in before money is invested," said Buchanan. "We don't want to see anyone lose their investments or security for their own families."

Recently PRONAS served notice to the township that it would be stepping in to fight for protection of the site. Prepared to raise tipis and conduct ceremony at the property's edge, a group of Haudenosaunee as well as members of other tribes stood ready to come to the township.

In a Jan. 8 letter to the governor's office, the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology Inc., a group of about a dozen statewide chapters, said "this site is of key importance to an understanding of the history and demise of one of Pennsylvania's most prominent Native American groups, the Susquehannocks.

Archaeological sites are unique and non-renewable resources. Once destroyed, the information they contain is irretrievably lost."

"Unfortunately, existing laws and regulations afford virtually no protection to this site. We urge, in the strongest possible terms, that some mechanism be found to preserve the site, its historic setting and archaeological data. One option is for a conservation organization such as the Archaeological Conservancy to purchase the site area and hold it as a preserve. The SPA stands ready to provide whatever assistance it can to resolve this problem."

The letter also stated that the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission believes the site is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The land owners refused to submit the application. When the Archaeological Conservancy offered to buy the site, they again declined the offer.

PRONAS will be meeting with the Kohrs to discuss allowing American Indians to have access to the site. During a reconnaissance examination, Buchanan said a lakeside dirt driveway plowed up a driveway in the 1950s had already destroyed graves. There is also a bog turtle habitat near what may have been a prayer site.

Messages found scraped into rocks may have been left from two or three tribes. Buchanan said one tribe indicated they were leaving and knew they could not return, but believed their descendants would be back.

About 900 Susquehanna, sometimes called the Minqua, are said to have lived on a hilltop on the east side of the river as a nation for the last time until around 1680.

Archaeological work in 1970 found palisade posts enclosing nearly four acres, 25 20-by 60-foot longhouses and storage pits. The four cemeteries suggest harsh times fell on the people, possibly a combination of warfare with the Haudenosaunee, European diseases and conflicts with the English in Maryland. They were thought to be an extinct people by 1763.

Nevin said in the 1930s relic hunters disturbed perhaps 100 burials. There is also evidence of settlements of Early, Middle and Archaic cultures dating to at least 10,000 years ago, including the Shenks Ferry people. Most ancestral sites are on private lands, according to the Archeological Conservancy in New Mexico. According to the Conservancy, the average site can be purchased for about $40,000. If federal and state governments join the preservation of the nation's history, 1,000 sites could be purchased for $40 million.