2012-07-07 / Top News

Indian Burial Mound Plan Comes To Board

By James Dau

The Mackinac Island Cemetery Board met for the first time this year Thursday, June 28, to discuss the arrangement and maintenance of the Native American burial mound being constructed in the Catholic cemetery and how to allocate the $1,719 it received through the Mackinac Island Community Foundation disbursement, and elected officers for the coming year.

The burial mound, which will be sculpted into the shape of turtle, the Native American symbol of Mackinac Island, contains human physical and spiritual remains exhumed during excavation in honor of Native American tradition regarding the island, was built to house the human remains for the foundation of the Bicycle Street Inn last November.

The chief question before the board regarding the burial mound was whether the City of Mackinac Island or the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians should be responsible for its upkeep following construction.

“I thought that we should have a letter of understanding or agreement with the tribe that said that they would maintain it,” said board President Armand “Smi” Horn.

To that end, Administrative Assistant to the Mayor, Kelly Bean, has been working with city attorney Tom Evashevski to draft such a document.

“He understands the basis of what we’re doing, so we just need to work on drawing something up,” Ms. Bean said.

She applied to the tribe for a $20,000 maintenance grant, which was denied, but the tribe did award $3,000, she said, and this money has been deposited in the board’s perpetual care fund until the question of who will take care of the mound is resolved.

A significant factor in determining the maintenance of the mound lies in how the mound will be presented. At present, this factor is shrouded in uncertainty, as a number of ideas have been put forward but none acted upon. One concept suggested by the tribe involved placing flagstones on the mound and constructing an elaborate display for the site. Board member Kathi Wightman proposed a different, more minimalist solution.

“I think it should be covered with myrtle,” she said. “No one will have to take care of it, it’ll bloom purple flowers in the spring, it’ll cascade down. The guys up there would have to just trim it when it actually falls down.”

Her suggestion met with resistance, however, because it would use city resources to maintain the mound. Mrs. Wightman suggested that the $3,000 from the tribe could be used.

“It would only happen every couple of years, at most,” she pointed out.

Covering the mound with grass was ruled out because it would have to be mowed.

“This is why I think we need to have a letter of understanding with the tribe,” Mr. Horn reiterated. “We should make sure that they know they have to maintain it, and they can contract the $3,000 from the City of Mackinac Island to maintain it, but I think they should be responsible for that.”

Board member Tom Pfeiffelmann suggested inviting a representative from the tribe to the next meeting to further discuss these issues, as well as the adoption of a letter of understanding with the tribe regarding the mound.

“I agree,” Mrs. Wightman said. “We should get them here and talk about this faceto face ,and that’ll be it.”

The rest of the board concurred with this course of action.

The other major topic of discussion at the meeting was how to allocate funds received through the Mackinac Island Community Foundation’s annual disbursement check. Each year, the cemetery board receives a check from the Community Foundation for operations. This year, the Cemetery Board received $1,719. The check had yet to be deposited, as the board had not yet determined how the fund would be used. Mr. Horn had suggested using it to purchase a leaf vacuum and chipper to be towed behind a tractor and used for cemetery maintenance.

“There are reservations about buying a piece of equipment, however,” Ms. Bean pointed out, “because that’s going to be $1,800 for that, after just buying a new tractor, and the staff that we have out there not utilizing it enough.”

While the board stated its satisfaction with the existing maintenance staff and their use of the tractor and mowing equipment, they remained unconvinced of the utility of the proposed machine.

“I don’t think we need it,” board member Candace Smith said.

Added Ms. Bean: “My concern is, why spend that amount of money? The state park has the chipper, and why can’t we pile everything up so that, once or twice a year, like in the spring and fall, they come and chip it all up?”

Given that the cemetery staff had neither requested the new equipment, nor had prior experience with it, coupled with the doubts regarding how necessary it was, the board voted to forgo its purchase and begin communicating with the state park instead.

The board ultimately voted to deposit the Community Foundation money in its general fund to use for a variety of projects. Significant among these is headstone maintenance. While the most severely damaged headstones have been repaired, many have begun to lean and fall over, the result of years of settling earth and the annual freeze-thaw weather cycle.

“I really think that’s a higher priority than a chipper,” Mr. Pfeiffelmann said. Many headstones are in need of cleaning, as well.

Also at the meeting, Ms. Bean updated the board on the recent headstone engravings done by Anger Monuments & Markers. Nearly all of the people who utilized Anger’s services were satisfied with the engraving work. City funds were used to pay for all of the engravings at once, with the families reimbursing the city for their portion of the cost.

The board approved an expansion of the McIntire family plot by four spaces. As their plot lies within the old section of the cemetery, board approval is required for any expansion.

The erection of a new headstone for the Vanderbeough family was approved for the new section of the Protestant cemetery by a 3-2 vote. The new stone will be centered between a pair of gravesites.

The board responded to a request by American Legion Post 299 regarding the headstones of Civil War soldiers in the cemetery. Post Commander Paul Wandrie wrote a letter to the City of Mackinac Island identifying three headstones, those of Private Andrew Chapman, Sergeant William Taylor, and Sergeant Major Benoni LaChance, which either contained misspelled names or identified the men as belonging to an incorrect military unit. The board gave its approval for the legionnaires to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs to have the headstones replaced with ones having correct information. Mr. Wandrie said in his letter that other headstones may be identified as further research is conducted as part of an effort to commission a monument in honor of Mackinac Island’s Civil War veterans.

The board discussed the replacement of United States flags beside the graves of veterans. Many veteran graves were found either lacking flags or featuring tattered, damaged flags. In response, the board decided, with the help of the American Legion, to create a master list of all the graves of veterans and inventory the flags each year. Such a list would facilitate better record-keeping and maintain the appearance and dignity of the grave sites. To this end, Mr. Wandrie had already compiled a list of graves in the Catholic cemetery, and was to complete the Protestant cemetery on the evening of June 28. The city purchases new flags for the graves each year, and this list would allow the city to keep better of track of which flags need replacing. The board also voted to leave the flags on the gravesites past Labor Day until Veterans Day.

The board also elected its leadership for the following year. Armand Horn was unanimously reelected to serve as president, and Kathi Wightman was elected to serve as vice president.

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