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Modern Lives Dwell in the Indian Past

washingtonpost.com

Sunday, October 20, 2002; Page C05

By LINDA WHEELER

Washington Post Staff Writer

"Indian Point thrusts into Potomac Creek like a muscular arm trying to hold back the tide that has eaten away the shoreline of this Stafford County peninsula, revealing intriguing bits of history while dragging acres of land into the water.

For centuries, this spit 12 miles east of Route 95 was a Patawomeck Indian village. This was the place where historians believe Pocahontas was kidnapped in 1613 by an English seaman -- and now it is the place where a dozen families, living in houses built 50 years ago, have become the sometimes reluctant stewards of what the Indians left behind.

When they dig their gardens in the spring, they routinely turn up pottery shards, pipe stems and arrowheads. But when domesticity makes larger demands -- say, an addition to a house or an erosion-control project -- many of them discover the conflict here between the living and the dead.

Chey and Robert DeBlasi learned that when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told them they couldn't excavate their steep shorefront hill and create a sweeping lawn down to a new bulwark that would keep their property from disappearing. They were told that digging would disturb the remnants of the historic village and burial grounds.

So the DeBlasis are getting used to the idea of building their seawall along the existing shoreline and adding fill dirt to the hill to stabilize it. "We are in compliance," Chey DeBlasi said. "We are preserving what is there. We won't move or touch a thing."

Or, as U.S. Army Corps scientist Hal Wiggins put it, "we are entombing the village." Entombing might work in some places to guard the buried history, but in other areas that are more open, no trespassing signs are posted, and relic hunting is not allowed.

Modern environmental and historic-protection laws mean that residents here must make their peace daily with the past -- and some have done it more comfortably than others. Charles "Chuck" Garrison built jetties when he arrived in 1956, but now that they need repair, he must get permission. "That's all garbage," he grumbled. "I have taken good care of my land. Now I need a permit to build a birdhouse."

Garrison's land has eroded as far as the swimming pool, and he worries that the creek will take his house one day. "Nature has taken away that land, and I want to bring that sand back," he said.

Erosion has brought the shoreline right to the perimeter of the old village. A 1996 archaeological study documented the trove of artifacts still scattered across the point: In one relatively small excavation, 10,203 of them were discovered. Most were pieces of pottery, some marked with the distinctive cord impression favored by Indians here.

"American Indians have lived on that land as far back as we can document," Wiggins said. "There is a wealth of archaeology at Indian Point" -- and residents don't have to dig to find it. All they have to do is walk the beach to encounter artifacts that have washed away and been brought back by the creek.

Artist Linda Fellers, who lives with her family at the tip of Indian Point, has display cases of the treasures she has collected. She knew about the Indian legacy when she moved here eight years ago, and although she, like Garrison, would like to restore some of her eroded property, she admires the zeal of those who protect the claims of history. She said Wiggins, who delivers the news about what may and may not be done, has become "a dear friend."

Earlier archeological work, in the 1930s, also documented an extensive array of burial plots. Before the houses, 134 bodies were unearthed and taken to the Smithsonian Institution, and that is where a second front has opened in this battle between time and tide: The descendants of the early Indians want the bones back.

But Robert Two Eagles Green, chief of the 427-member Patawomeck tribe in the Stafford County area, said the tribe must overcome a legal obstacle before it can make a formal request. Having insufficient records of its history, the tribe has not been recognized by the state, and William & Mary anthropology students are helping in their research efforts.

"We want our ancestors to sleep in peace," Green said.

Lesley "Buddy" Oden is among the Indian Point residents who has taken pains not to disturb the remains.

Although the county gave him a permit to build a new septic drain field and a larger house on the four acres he bought in 1995, he delayed the project after Wiggins asked for time to arrange a dig.

Where the drain field was to go, historians from the College of William and Mary discovered a cache of arrowheads and pottery pieces dating to the 1400s, Oden said.

"When I bought the property, I didn't realize all that stuff was there," said Oden, who owns a heating and air conditioning business. "It makes me feel a part of that Indian mystique, to walk where they walked. In the summer, when we see the fireflies, we talk about whether the Indians are there also."

He hasn't built that new drain field or the house to go with it."

2002 The Washington Post

Posted by Mikola 18 -- NDN AIM

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