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Native American service follows storm surge

Suspected CT burial site uncovered by Hurricane Irene

BY NICOLE BALL | BRANFORD, CT | September 23, 2011

Remains from two bodies that are suspected to have been Native Americans originally buried centuries ago, were re-interred Thursday after being exposed during Hurricane Irene.

The remains were re-interred in an embankment across from Linden Shores in Indian Neck near Branford.

Branford resident, local Medicine Chief Fox Running of the Quinnipiac Tribal Council and Ed Sarabia, Chairman of the Native American Advisory Council and member of the Tilngit Tribe of south eastern Alaska officiated at the ceremony.

A single bell chimed during the burial of the remains, which was done by a ritual of smudging with sage, which was mixed in a large abalone shell. The abalone shell, said Sarabia, is native to the west coast and traditionally, a clam or oyster shell from the area would normally be used. After the smudging, which included a member of the road construction crew who did some digging, the ceremony continued with burning tobacco, said Sarabia to carry the group’s prayers.

The press was asked not to take photos or film during the ceremonial re-burial. After the ceremony, which was observed by First Selectman Anthony "Unk" DaRos and other town officials, the remains were to be covered with a cloth and then riprap was to be back-filled in the area. The remains will then be covered by additional large stones.

“We’re happy,” said Running, who held a ceremonial feather close to his body, “to see that the remains of our ancestors have been respectfully placed back in the ground so that the creator can watch over them for all eternity.”

Sarabia said that though the area is not considered a sacred burial ground, the discovered remains will be treated with respect. “What we’ll do,” he commented, “when we come by, is take a small pebble and put it on the area that we know it’s buried.” Placing the pebbles he said, is representative of placing rocks on the tomb. “Rocks and boulders are the real elders of this world,” he said. “We are actually putting an elder back where they are to keep an eye on them but the other thing is to let them know, our people under the ground, that we’ve been here. It’s out of respect but it’s also saying that we know where you are.”

The bones, which included three tibias according to Sarabia, were found on August 29. Branford Police said they responded to Linden Avenue Beach after neighbors from the area located what they believed were human bones protruding from the embankment which had been eroded by Hurricane Irene.

DaRos noted that the bones were about 15 to 20 feet above sea level. To ensure they were safe until more information regarding the date and origin of the bones could be determined, DaRos said Branford Police patrolled the area every half hour. “At the time,” said DaRos, “we didn’t know if it was human or animal but we treated it like it was human and protected the site the whole time.”

Police stated that the remains were transported to the Connecticut State Medical Examiner’s Office, who determined the bones were human, possibly of Native American origin. Sarabia said state archeologists were able to surmise that the bones were Native American in origin due to the past history of other bones buried in the area. Running said the remains are believed to be from members of the Quinnipiac Confederacy Totoket Band or Quinnipiac Band.

Though there was no full description offered of what the remains looked like, Sarabia and Running said the bones were preserved by the lime emitted from the shells with which they were buried. Considering the abundance of acid in Connecticut soil, said Running, their condition was good.

According to Running, the bones are believed to be pre-contact (dated to before contact with Europeans) and anywhere from 500 to thousands of years old.

During the following weeks after the bones were found, members of Branford Police and the Town’s Engineer, Janice Plaziak, worked closely with archaeologists and members of the Native American Heritage Advisory Council to maintain the integrity and security of the site until a proper method of returning the area back to its pre-storm condition could be determined.

Branford Police Chief Kevin Halloran said, “Our major concern during these preceding weeks was to maintain the honor and respect of those Native Americans who may have been laid to rest in this area and work closely with their ancestors to maintain the dignity they deserve.”

This story originally appeared in the Branford Patch. Reproduced with permission.

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