On Mackinac Island, developers of a new hotel discovered what appears to be a massive burial site last week. Police say it's now clear some of the bones unearthed in the excavation are human, likely ancestors of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
Several hundred bones have been unearthed so far after a historic building known as the McNally Cottage was demolished. Property owner, Ira Green, plans to build a new three-story hotel where the building once stood. Some of the bones on the construction site belong to animals, while others are human remains. Mayor of Mackinac Island, Margaret Doud, said Saturday that she was not surprised bones had been found on the property. Downtown business owner, Tony Brodeur agreed, "You know, I'm not entirely surprised. And now... it's going to stir up a lot of emotions... There has got to be a diplomatic solution."
The remains - and other artifacts found - could suggest a cemetery or burial site and excavators continue to find more remains this week, as the work continues. A volunteer says three nearly intact human skeletons were discovered Monday.
It could be that McNally Cottage was built on top of a Catholic cemetery from the early 19th century - in a parish where many members were Native American.
Work continues on the site as a result of negotiations between the Sault Saint Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, the property owner and the city of Mackinac Island. Saturday, workers trucked soil to another location, so that tribal members can reclaim and re-bury remains. A representative from the tribe, Cecil Pavlat, says this is an unfortunate situation but everyone involved is doing their best to do what's right.
"We will be holding a Native American traditional ceremony to rebury our ancestors in a respectful manner," he said.
Pavlat says there are plans in place for a new local ordinance that would help with a better plan of action should remains such as these be found on Mackinac Island in the future. There are currently no local laws in place, although developers do have to follow state law. They need a permit from a medical examiner, or court order, in order to knowingly disinter human remains, according to State of Michigan archaeologist, Dean Anderson. It's not clear whether the developer has met those requirements.
One historian thinks more care should be taken to preserve the historic integrity of the site. Brian Leigh Dunnigan is the curator of maps for the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan and released a book which is an iconographic history of the Straits of Mackinac region from 1615-1860. Dunnigan says the site is just beside the original St. Anne's Catholic Church which was relocated in the mid-1800s. He explained further, "After the cemetery was closed in December of 1851, supposedly all of the burials were removed and put in the new Catholic cemetery behind fort Mackinac."
Dunnigan went on to say there was no scientific way to ensure every burial had been found so it is possible this represents a leftover grave from that cemetery.
"The old city of Mackinac Island is so historic that, really, no projects should be undertaken without there being some kind of archaeological mediation to ensure that historical resources are not being destroyed as they seem to have been in this particular case," said Dunnigan.
Ira Green says police are involved and handling the situation in a way he believes is proper. He says workers will continue to move the top layer of soil, doing it slowly when they come across bones.