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Volunteers clean up Chippewa burial ground in Gaines Township

By Laura Angus | Swartz Creek News
Friday October 31, 2008, 10:23 AM

Laura Angus | Swartz Creek NewsMinie Stevens of Mount Pleasant clears brush during the cleanup of the Three Pines burial ground in Gaines Township. Stevens, a member of the Chippewa tribe, said some of his ancestors are buried there.

GAINES TOWNSHIP, Michigan - Along with 30 other volunteers, Laura Horton spent Oct. 25 cleaning up the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe's burial ground off of Seymour Road and helping to preserve the piece of local history.

She said she volunteered because she felt the spirits of the American Indians compelling her to help out.

"The Indians were bothering me all week," said Horton of Flushing.

Also, she has some American Indian ancestors, she said. She doesn't know from which tribes, but said everyone has some American Indian heritage.

The burial ground was used by the tribe before the land became part of the Crapo family farm. It was returned to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe around the 1860s, said Bill Morgan, president and founder of the Swartz Creek Area Historical Society. The land changed hands over the years, but was always a known burial place, he said.

Today it is known as the Three Pines burial ground, and the land it sits on was recently donated to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe in Mount Pleasant. He said there are 27 bodies buried there.

"When we formed the historical society, I became very interested in the burial ground," Morgan said.

Morgan said he tracked down the owners, and got them to donate the burial ground to the tribe so the tribe and the historical society can preserve it.

"We want to make sure that burial ground is maintained with dignity and respect," he said.

Mount Pleasant resident Minie Stevens, a member of the Chippewa tribe, was one of the workers out clearing brush and taking down dead trees in the area that day.

He works to for a center than maintains cemeteries in the area, and this burial ground is one that he has been wanting to get to.

"This one is a little more personal to me because some of my ancestors are buried there," he said.

His heritage motivates him to help preserve places like this, he said.

"It's our ancestors and they deserve to have a nice resting place and be appreciated and remembered."

Cheryl Spaniola of Clayton Township was one the volunteers out on the gray morning. She's the director of the Swartz Creek School District's Indian School. She teaches the Ojibwa language to students enrolled in the federally-funded program.

Chippewa is the American name for the Ojibwa tribe, she said.

She came out to help with the clean up because the restoration of the burial ground is something she's been working on for years.

"I've been involved with trying to get the tribe to pick up after this," she said.

"It's nice to see them clean it up," said Gould, who helped with the effort.

Bonnie Brazeal of Swartz Creek said she is a descendant of the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes, and wanted to help after seeing an announcement about it in the Swartz Creek News.

"We need to go out there and help clean up," she said.

Even though it was chilly and gray, she said the weather was perfect for the work.

"It's been a beautiful day," she said.

Morgan said he was pleasantly surprised at the number of volunteers and the amount of work accomplished in one day.

He said he wants the grounds to become a place people can visit and continue to preserve.

"We guarantee it will never go back to what it was," Morgan said.