Authors of warrant article seek to preserve native landscapes

  • Miriam DeFant, left, speaks to the Shutesbury Planning Board in 2016 at Town Hall.

Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 05, 2017

SHUTESBURY — Development pressures that could compromise sacred and ceremonial American Indian sites are prompting concerned residents to ask annual Town Meeting to mandate better protections and more thorough studies of Shutesbury land.

The petition, known as the “Resolution to Preserve Native American Historical Sites and Traditional Cultural Properties, Including Ceremonial Stone Landscapes,” was recently submitted for inclusion on the May 6 warrant by Friends of Shutesbury and the Oso:ah Foundation. Oso:ah stands for “planting a tree in the name of peace.”

James Schilling-Cachat, of Leverett Road and a spokesman for the groups, said the article is important because the town is rich in sacred stone sites, yet they are at risk because little has been done to catalog them.

“The lack of residential and agricultural development has allowed numerous sacred sites to survive in good condition to this point,” Schilling-Cachat said. “All this is fast disappearing under new logging plans in publicly-owned lands, state forests and even watersheds, as well as commercial development.”

The warrant article, as proposed, would mandate that the Select Board, Historical Commission and Community Preservation Act Committee complete surveys of land in Shutesbury and document the priority landscapes to preserve.

The petition comes as a controversial solar project on 30 acres off Pratt Corner Road continues to go through the permitting stage. While an archaeological examination of the property is complete, there has been concern that the land hasn’t been fully evaluated as a possible burial ground for Native Americans.

But the Planning Board recently told developer Lake Street Development of Chicago that the studies were thorough enough, even though Tribal Historic Preservation Officers have not been able to to go on the land.

Unless that happens ,there will be fear about losing out to development.

“Resident Native American religious practitioners and Syncretic practitioners have worshiped for many years, in some case many thousands of years, in these places and are deeply concerned about loss of their places of worship,” Schilling-Cachat said.

Among the ways the petitioners would like to see actions by the town are having the Community Preservation Act Committee allocate funds related to surveying and preserving, the Historical Commission seek grants to pay for or seek volunteers, including the experts from tribes, who can evaluate land, and the Select Board create a scheduled inventory of prioritized preservation targets in Shutesbury.

The warrant article reads, in part: “The Historical Commission shall be expedient in their efforts in order to reclaim time lost on preservation of Native American heritage, recognizing that time is of the essence in this matter and that many sites face the threat of demolition without ever having been recorded or surveyed by the town.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.