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H2O Man's Journal
Posted by H2O Man in General Discussion (1/22-2007 thru 12/14/2010)
Tue Sep 28th 2010, 12:09 PM


A half-century ago, the community of Sidney, N.Y., was featured in a Look magazine article as “the town (the United States) can't do without.” The article focused on Scintilla, a defense industry plant that employed some 5,000 people – more than the community's entire population. During WW2, that plant had produced the parts that helped this country win the war. It had made the Delaware County village one of the top enemy targets.

Yesterday, the Town of Sidney was again in the national news; both the Huffington Post and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann reported on efforts by members of the Tea Party and the Town Supervisor to force an Islamic community on a rural farm to excavate their tiny cemetery. Sidney's Town Supervisor Bob McCarthy was named as Countdown's “Worst Person in the World.”

Sidney, which marked the nation's “western front” at the time of the Revolutionary War, has a curious history of destroying the burial grounds of non-white people. In the 1860's, during the construction of the Midland Railway (later known as the Ontario & Western), a Hopewellian burial mound was excavated and used for “fill” along the line. This historic mound was located the furthest east along the Susquehanna River; local settlers called it “the Haystack Mound.” Munsell's 1880 book,”History of Delaware County, New York” notes that human remains and burial goods were scattered for about one-half a mile along the railroad tracks.

In 1968, '69, and '71, amateur archaeologists and relic collectors were involved in the excavation of the pre-Revolutionary War Indian settlement, which was at the intersection of the Unadilla and Susquehanna Rivers. The area was known as “Tey-un-a- del-ho” by the Iroquois and Lenapi people living there, a phrase that translates to “where the water sings.” A mountain at the intersection, called “Mount Moses” by white settlers, had been cleared annually by the Indians there, which marked it as “sacred ground.” ( see Munsell; and Campbell, “Sidney, Then and Now: 1772 – 1972)

A number of the people involved in this “dig” excavated the area where the Hopewellian Mound was used as fill. Along with burial goods such as Hopewell pipes, the participants collected such “relics” as human skulls for their private collections.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, another controversy involving an Indian site took place. New York State had ordered the Town of Sidney to “cover and cap” a toxic waste dump that is located at Pecham's Reservoir, which serves as the Village of Sidney's “back-up” water supply. Scintilla and other industries had used the site for dumping chemical wastes, after the state had closed the Richardson Hill/Sidney Landfill Dump, (which would be listed as two Super Fund Sites).

The then-Supervisor made plans with the Delhi Supervisor (the two had the “weighted votes” needed to run the Delaware County Board of Supervisors), to contract her husband's construction company. They would excavate a large, glacial knoll at the intersection of the Ouleout Creek and Susquehanna for “fill.” The knoll happened to be located on the Sidney Supervisor's son-in-law's farm.

That knoll had played a significant cultural and historical role in the region's history. It was known before the Revolutionary War as a meeting site for Iroquois and Lenapi Indians. It was the site of an early Scotch-Irish community, known as Albout Local residents had known the knoll to be a burial site for Indians. During the construction of “Interstate 88” in 1972, workers had uncovered numerous Indian graves just south of the knoll. (The state university system said they had “misplaced” all records, as well as the human remains and burial goods. However, Tuscarora Ben Cusick was able to identify the exact spot where each grave was uncovered and robbed.)

An archaeological study of the fields surrounding the knoll found “long-term and extensive” Indian occupation. Projectile points found on and around the knoll included everything from a Clovis (fluted) Spear Point to Levanna and Madison Arrowheads. The archaeologist's report noted that 392 bones and 58 teeth were found; of these, 12 bones were identified as “non-human.” (Oberon; 1-16-90) He concluded that “this knoll contains sandy upper soil strata and is located very close to an extensive and long-term Native American occupation area, raising the likelihood that it was used as a burial site based upon data collected from other such contexts in the Northeast”. (Oberon; 7-28-89)

The state had ruled that, due to the extensive occupation around the knoll, that those fields could not be involved in any excavation. All that was left in dispute was the knoll in the center of the occupied fields. The Town of Sidney and the construction company took the position that, while there was extensive occupation all around the knoll, there was no evidence that the Indians used the knoll itself.

Representatives from the Onondaga Nation, including Tadodaho Leon Shennandoah, Chief Lewis Farmer of the Eel Clan, Chief Paul Waterman, Turtle Clan, and Clan Mother Audrey Shennandoah, Turtle Clan, led the effort to preserve the knoll. They visited it numerous times, spoke with the Sidney Town Historian and many local residents, and were able to present a plan that would have offered a workable solution to meet everyone's needs.

A town resident who had a gravel bank locate ½ mile from the knoll offered to allow the construction company free access to the supply of gravel needed to cover the toxic dump. Some state employees with historical preservation were willing to work to compensate the land owner, and to make the site a historic park. The Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy offered to work with the town and state, to make the site and educational park for teaching area youth about our common, human history. A senior editor from National Geographic spoke in favor of preserving the site.

But the local political machine refused to listen. They were determined to destroy the site.

This led to Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) v Commissioner of Environmental Conservation and Burton F. Clark, Inc., in the NYS Supreme Court in Albany. The case included depositions from the Town Historian, and community elders with knowledge of the site's history; Tadodaho Shennandoah's letter to Governor Cuomo; early 1900s postcards documenting the site's history; information from the four archaeological surveys of the area; and much more.

During the initial court hearing, Judge Robert C. Williams said that he was tempted to rule immediately in favor of the Iroquois. He eventually agreed to a second hearing, though he told those in the courtroom that he was tempted to hold it on the knoll itself.

Within a few weeks, before any court ruling, the construction company began to excavate the knoll. In time, Judge Williams ruled in favor of the destruction of the knoll, without holding a second hearing. What Indian and local people recognized as “sacred ground” was thus used to cover a toxic dump.

It did not surprise me to hear Keith Olbermann's comments on Sidney's Supervisor McCarthy last night. I suppose few things surprise me any more.
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