Manataka American Indian Council




April 2010




Spare this Sacred Site!
Protesters ask Ulster, New York planners to protect Native American relics

by Kathryn Heidecker

Ulster Sacred Site protesters. [Nora Paul Budziak]


After a group prayer and drum circle, dozens representing several Native American groups, including the Mohawks, Blackfeet and the Ojibways, spoke against a proposed development at the Town of Ulster Planning Board meeting Tuesday evening.

During a public hearing, the Ulster Manor preliminary subdivision plat approval drew sharp criticism from neighboring property owners, Native American groups and environmentalists during a public hearing described by one attendee as "trial by fire" for newly appointed planning board Chairman Renno Budziak. Owners of the 48-acre site are seeking approval to build 104 units of townhouses, single-family homes and condos, as well as a recreational facility, including a tennis court and swimming pool. Under the current proposal, eight acres of the site would contain development; the remaining 40 acres would be "re-landscaped" open space.

However, the parcel contains a rare archaeological site - a workshop used to make stone tools and a camp used by the Sylvan Lake people, a Native American group who lived in the Dutchess-Ulster area about 5,000 years ago. A second site used by a much more recent Native American group, near the time of when the Iroquois people first moved into the area, about 1,000 years ago. What is especially interesting about the site, which was explored by a dig in 2005, is that it is tucked into a spot which has never been flooded and never been plowed over for farming, making it pristine from an archaeological point of view. At the more recent site, which was investigated in the late 1940s, human remains were reported to have been found, but not reported to have been removed.

The board took no action Tuesday; the public hearing was continued until its Feb. 16 meeting.

Some speaking at the meeting felt the site should be left intact. Others advocated that if development is necessary, Native American leaders should be consulted and the burial grounds, if any are found, should be excavated in a culturally respectful manner.

Those speaking at the public hearing also pointed to the irony that evidence of Native American activity on the Ulster Manor site was documented - and celebrated - during the Quadricentenial festivities.

Deborah Sanchez, an Ulster County resident, said she was disappointed with the proceedings. "It is a matter of observing history and artifact," Sanchez stated, standing before the Planning Board wearing a traditional Native American dress of beaded, fringed leather. "Would you want your mother's bones to be built upon or moved? These are rare finds in a pristine area."

Hyde Park resident Donna Coane, who also wore traditional Native American dress and brought along her 10-year-old son who wore a feathered headdress, described the devastation she felt when encountering Native American skulls in a history museum. Coane also pleaded with the board to give the site a more thorough review before granting developers permission to build.

"I ask you to consider getting to the bottom of this burial site," said Judy Abbott of Lake Hill, during her address to the Board. At this point in the evening, Chairman Budziak questioned Abbott about the importance of burial grounds. "What significance would that have?" he asked, and audible gasps were heard throughout the room. "Human remains certainly change something," Abbott responded.

Woodstock resident the Rev. James Davis, who said he had been studying Native American sites for over 20 years, distributed an "Archaeology Fact Sheet" before speaking to the board. "The Manor Quarry Site possibly contains evidence of a method used by precontact groups for exploiting raw lithic material that is yet unexplored archaeologically ... The coexistence of well defined components of daily precontact life at the same site is rare and demonstrates the importance of the Manor Site as an archaeological resource, this was clearly a significant precontact site and a National Register eligible archaeological resource," he said.

Davis, and others at the meetings, called for the public review of archaeologist Joseph Diamond's report on the site. Diamond, also a SUNY New Paltz professor, conducted a Phase III archaeological review of the site, but the results were never made available to the public, nor the planning board, Davis said.

The managing director of the Wittenberg Center for Alternative Resources, a non-governmental organization that is committed to teaching about Native American culture, Davis also decried the possible environmental impacts of development. "If we don't take care of our estuaries, we will never again have recreational or commercial fisheries in New York State."

We did our jobs
Planner Daniel Shuster of Shuster Associates defended the project, saying it had been thoroughly investigated. "This plan has received a tremendous amount of scrutiny, not just from the Department of Environmental Conservation, but from the town, as well as the attorney general's office took a hard look at this," he said.

But Marlene Englehart, a bordering property owner, said the environmental review of the project was inaccurate. "The answers throughout the environmental assessment form the impression of no significant environmental impact," she said. However, said Englehart, she has witnessed a 180-foot culvert pipe that is draining wetlands from the area. "My right to enjoy my property is going to be taken away," she said, "I ask the board to vote no and five the proposed project the thorough examination and due diligence it deserves. Patti Guido, another bordering property owner, also spoke at the meeting. "The phase III archaeological report was not provided for review," she said. "This document should be examined by the planning board and the public."


There has been an important archaeological find in a Town of Ulster site.  First reported on by William Richie for the NY State Museum in 1952, it was called The Kingston Site. Richie reported that two burials were found on that site dating to the Woodland Period.  Now called The Manor Site it is slated to be destroyed for development.
Recently excavated by archaeologist Adam Luscier for Hartgen Associates as part of the State Environmental Quality Review Act,  Luscier's final report states:

"The Manor Site is, in fact, the rediscovery of part of the Kingston Site 1...It is rare to find archeological sites that have never been plowed...The Manor Quarry Site possibly contains evidence of a method used by precontact groups for exploiting raw lithic material that is yet unexplored archeologically...the coexistence of well defined components of daily precontact life at the same site is rare and demonstrates the importance of the Manor Site as an archeological resource.  The integrity of the deposit was considered excellent, and this was clearly a significant precontact site and a national Register-eligible archeological resource."

Some have felt moved to action in defense of this extraordinary, irreplaceable site and have been working to find a way to preserve it, and if not, at least allow it to be further studied for the sake of our history before it is destroyed..

Adam Luscier's report for Hartgen -- go to  Look under "Economic Development."


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