Sacred site at risk: In a state without federally recognized tribes, Native people’s participation can be shouldered aside

Published in Indian Country Today in 2006. For more on topics like this, see my book, American Apartheid: The Native American Struggle...

Native groups and other advocates for sacred sites in and around Newark, Ohio, appear to have been unaware of a recent U.S. Army Corps of Engineers public-notice period. The notice describes plans for industrial construction near the Newark Earthworks, shown here. The 2,000-year-old National Historic Landmark is about 30 east of Columbus. It is the world’s largest set of geometric earthworks, covering four and one-half square miles, and encodes important lunar events.

Crossing the 300-acre construction site is what appears to be the remains of a 200-foot-wide, walled ceremonial road connecting the Newark Earthworks to another mound grouping with lunar and solar alignments 60 miles away. (This stretch of road is south of a better-preserved section, with surviving walls, that another builder has promised to save; see Indian Country Today, September 6, 2006.) Ohio Historical Society archaeologist Dr. Bradley Lepper has spent many years documenting the ancient roadway.

Wetlands on the construction site meant the port authority had to obtain a permit from the Corps of Engineers. This brought the project under federal jurisdiction and caused the National Historic Preservation Act to apply. Under Section 106 of the law, the corps asked the port authority to do an archaeological review to uncover any historic properties that were eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

The corps’ Huntington District, which covers this part of Ohio, then gave individuals and groups the opportunity to become consulting parties to the project and comment on it. The district placed Public Notice 200300870 on its website and sent the notification to a mailing list of Ohioans who’d previously asked to receive announcements. The notice also went to out-of-state federally recognized Indian tribes, according to corps regulatory specialist Susan A. Fields. Many of Ohio’s Native people were removed to other states during the 19th century, so Ohio has no federally recognized tribes that might have participated.

In consultation with the Ohio Historic Preservation Office (OHPO), in Columbus, the corps compiled another mailing list of potentially interested Newark-area parties. No indigenous people or groups, such as NAAO, the Ohio Center for Native American Affairs and the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio, were on this list. “That’s amazing,” said community member Gail Zion. “They’ve been in the forefront on these issues for a long time.”

“They have no special standing under the law, as federally recognized tribes do,” explained Valerie Hauser, coordinator of the Native American Program of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, OHPO assumed Native people would hear through the grapevine. “I believe word was passed along,” said Dave M. Snyder, OHPO archaeology reviews manager, then added, “It was clear information wasn’t getting out to folks.” Said one Native woman: “This project took us completely by surprise.”

Alan Tonetti, chairman of the government affairs committee of the nonprofit Ohio Archaeological Council, criticized the lack of broader participation: “We asked for a public hearing because a lot of groups that may have been interested were not aware of the project. Unfortunately, to become involved you have to know a project is about to happen, know how to look for its public notice and realize you can ask the corps for consulting party status.”

OAC received this official standing, described as “posturing” by Snyder, who said he preferred “informal talks.” The state preservation office appears to have felt pressure to move quickly. “The developer was quite far along before we ever heard about it,” Snyder said. Fields confirmed that the corps had issued a cease-and-desist order to stop construction so the preliminary, or phase-one, archaeological tests could take place.

OAC analyzed the tests and offered its opinion that they were insufficient. The archaeologist doing the studies also recommended further, or phase-two, tests. Without that extra work, Tonetti said, it is impossible to know whether the planned 50-foot buffer zone around certain areas provides adequate protection, in particular for the ancient road.

No further testing was done, and the buffer zone remains unchanged. “The developer and the corps were not very receptive to what OAC was proposing,” Snyder said. The opportunity to make comments is over, the corps has issued a final Memorandum of Agreement, and the bulldozer drivers may start their engines. Some in the Newark area are left wondering what happened.

Understanding Section 106
Members of the public with concerns about federal projects should get involved and offer comments, said John Eddins, historic preservation specialist of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. If you’re not a member of a federally recognized tribe and wish to learn about projects in your area, get on the mailing list of your local corps of engineers’ district, Eddins advised: “Anyone can ask to receive public notices.” Go to for your local office’s contact information, then call, write or email with your request.

To learn about the Section 106 process, go to the Advisory Council’s website ( for the text of the National Historic Preservation Act and Section 106 regulations, as well as summaries and guidebooks. Your state historic preservation office may also offer information and workshops.

Text c. Stephanie Woodard; photograph c. Joseph Zummo.

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