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Native American bones found in Flint

By: Mike Wayland

Issue date: 2/11/08 Section: News
Three Native American Chippewa Tribe bands roamed Michigan back when America was known as "the New World."

These bands were the Black River Band, Swan Creek Band and Saginaw Band, which are now all the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.

An ancestral burial ground to one of these bands may have been discovered late last month in Flint during excavation for a building project.

"Remains were found in three separate areas of excavation ... from Monday (Jan. 28) through Thursday," said Roger Saylor, vice president of Saylor Building Co., the general contractor on the building project there.

Now, Mount Pleasant's Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe is getting involved.

Shannon Martin, director of the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways and William Johnson, Cultural Resource Management curator went to the site, located in a residential area near downtown Flint.

Martin said five full skeletons have been unearthed so far.

"It possibly could have been a burial site because at one time one large population of (Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe ancestors) were there," she said.

Martin said development during the 1860s was not kind to gravesites like the one in Flint, so it's difficult to be completely sure.

A clue that the site is a burial ground is the placement of the bodies in groups away from the river, she said.

"The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe is taking lead in resolving the situation in respect to those ancestors," Martin said.

If the site is an actual burial ground, Martin said, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe will do what is spiritually right to offer prayers to their ancestors.

The first remains, unearthed Jan. 28, were sent to Michigan State University anthropologist Norman Sauer.

The others still are in possession of the Flint Police Department awaiting transportation, Martin said.

"The bones themselves give us clues," Sauer said. "Initially, we have to treat them as a forensic case."

Once it is determined whether it is a forensic or pre-modern case, Sauer said, specifics about the remains will be determined. Researchers use the bones, wear on the teeth, historical background, and other morphological evidence such as the shape of head to do this, he said.

Martin said their ancestors remains are a main concern.

"We are happy to cooperate with the Chippewa Nation in the recovery of these remains," Saylor said.