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Narragansett Indian Tribe leaders say artifacts belong to Deerfield family

DEERFIELD — The Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office, which is charged with overseeing — among other things — Indian burial artifacts in southern New England, says artifacts found on Pine Hill by the University of Massachusetts archaeology field school belong to its Deerfield landowners.

“The landowner has every right to reclaim the artifacts that were on earth on his property,” said Doug Harris, the deputy tribal historic preservation officer for the Narragansett Indian Tribe.

“Ultimately, the landowner is the primary steward of human remains and burial items on the earth of his property. The landowner has rights that the state can’t take away.”

He contends that artifacts found on the Yazwinski family of Deerfield Pine Hill property by the UMass Archaeology Field School during the 1980s and 1990s belong to the family.

Harris, who specializes in the preservation of ceremonial lands, said “the private landowner’s rights are not denied by virtue of an archaeological investigation.”

Recently, cousins, Chester “Chet” and Frank “Butch” Yazwinski have requested site reports and asked for the artifacts, which are kept in university stoarge, to be returned.

State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, is now arranging a meeting between the Yazwinskis, Director of the UMass-Amherst Center for Heritage and Society Elizabeth Chilton and the Massachusetts Historical Commission to determine the future disposition of the artifacts.

Chilton, who was a graduate student at the time of the Pine Hill digs, has deferred to the state Historical Commission, which issues state permits for digs she does in Massachusetts and determines where artifacts will be stored and analyzed.

Artifacts at Pine Hill indicate it was an ancient burial ground, Harris contends.

The Narragansett Indian Tribe — based in Rhode Island — is related by language to the Pocumtuck Indian Tribe of Deerfield and were once allied in battles with other southern tribes such as the Mohegans and the Pequots. Because there are no longer any members of the Pocumtuck Tribe (they were wiped out in battles with the Mohawks of New York State, as well as by diseases contracted after contact with Europeans), Harris said the Narragansett Tribe often comes to the Pioneer Valley to defend and protect the extinct tribe’s cultural and historic resources.

He said the Narragansetts will work with the Yazwinski family to make sure the artifacts are properly dealt with.

“We have no right to demand items from the landowner. We would like the opportunity to talk with the Yazwinskis. We’d support their right to determine what would happen,” Harris said.

Though the fate of the artifacts is up to the Yazwinskis, according to the Narragansett Indians, the tribe would want the Deerfield farmers to rebury the artifacts.

“We usually wish for the artifacts to be returned to where they came from and maybe conservation easement could be placed on the land so future landowners know it is a burial site,” Harris said.

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