New Hampshire

Abenakis Protest Squam Visitors Center Construction

By Carol Carter, Union Leader Correspondent
August 23, 2001

HOLDERNESS — Tribal members from the Abenaki Nation of New Hampshire and Vermont marched near the entrance to the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center yesterday, protesting the construction of a new visitors center on what they believe is a Native American burial ground.

“This is very, very important to us. We want them to stop construction and talk with us about alternatives,” said Charlie True, chief of the 200-member Abenaki Nation of New Hampshire.

But science center officials aren’t convinced the construction site harbors any remains. The area is most likely an extension of a boulder field where a parking lot was built last year, according to Will Abbott, executive director of the science center.

“We’re not proposing to dig up the whole hillside here. This is a relatively small amount of ground,” said Abbott.

An archeologist will be present during excavation of the tenth of an acre area where a visitors center and leach field will become part of the science center’s campus master plan. Construction is expected to begin in early September.

The Abenakis say they are alarmed by the plans. Archeologists believe the site was one of the largest Native American settlements in New Hampshire several thousand years ago, according to True. Earlier archeological probes indicate the tribe used this area along Squam Lake as a seasonal camp for hunting and fishing.

Yesterday, True corrected erroneous information given to The Union Leader from another tribal member this week that remains of 40 Native Americans were recovered this summer from soil delivered to a boat ramp project across from the science center. In fact, archeologists are sifting 40 truckloads of soil in an effort to recover remains, True said.

“It’s impossible to tell how many individuals were buried there but there are many hundreds of bone fragments,” said True.

Abenakis insist the topsoil came from the new parking lot constructed at the science center last Fall. Abbott disagrees, saying a contractor delivered fill to the ramp from another location.

When fragments were discovered in June, the soil was moved to an undisclosed location where a team of archeologists from New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont are sifting for fragments. The process will likely take another 10 days, True said.

“We’re trying to retrieve our ancestors and it’s a lot of hard work. It’s very sad,” said True.

Members of the Abenaki tribes in both New Hampshire and Vermont traveled here early yesterday morning to protest the project. “How would you feel if your own grandmother was about to be dug up in the name of progress,” read one of the protester’s signs.

Some motorists slowed down to read the signs and a neighbor walked over to offer his support. “They’ve known for two years that this is a burial site. They should have taken steps to stop digging. It’s a shame,” said Red Murray, who lives near the boat ramp.

Abbott admits the science center will likely wind up with a black eye over the controversy. “We’re trying to be sensitive to their concerns but there is no physical evidence of a burial ground. We’re between a rock and a hard place,” said Abbott.