SYRACUSE, N.Y. ? Chief Paul Waterman, Turtle Clan, Onondaga, has passed away at age 77.
Waterman, a chief since 1967, died on Aug. 25 at University Hospital in Syracuse. The cause of death was not made public.
Chief Waterman successfully pressured museums and collectors into returning thousands of skeletal remains and burial artifacts to the Iroquois and other tribes.
Earlier this year, Chief Waterman burned tobacco over the remains of an Onondaga child whose 500-year-old grave was unearthed as the state Department of Transportation prepared to replace a bridge over the Seneca River. The Nation convinced the state to alter the $25-million bridge construction project so that the grave would not be disturbed.
Last year, Chief Waterman presided over the reburial of 47 Onondagas whose remains were unearthed near Jamesville by archaeologists in 1961 and 1962.
"You were taken from here and now we're going to put you back into Mother Earth, where you came from," Chief Waterman said in the Onondaga language at the time.
"He had a belief in protecting these sites ... that our ancestors should not be disturbed," his niece, Jeanne Shenandoah, told The Post-Standard of Syracuse.
"He will be missed," Onondaga Chief Irving Powless said. "He's been down to Kentucky, all over, putting our ancestors back in the ground. It was important to the council of chiefs, the work that he did."
He was a life resident of the Onondaga Nation, and he was a 40-year member of Laborers Local 433.
Survivors include two daughters, Denise Waterman of Onondaga Nation and Dawn Honyoust of Cambridge; two sons, David of Issaquah, Wash., and Wayne of Syracuse; a sister, Audrey Shenandoah of Onondaga Nation; and eight grandchildren. His wife, Frances, died in 1987.
Funeral services were held at his home and the Onondaga Nation Longhouse. Burial was in the Onondaga Nation Cemetery. Butler-Badman Funeral Home, Onondaga Hill, handled arrangements.