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  1. The Big Picture
  2. How 1, People Went Missing from Our Public Lands Without a Trace | Outside Online
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Recent research suggests that the U. President may have suffered from this mysterious neurological disease. For nearly twenty years, people who have a kinship to Abraham Lincoln have been gathering for reunions in Indiana, Iowa, and Kentucky — and medical researchers have been there along with them.

The last known photo taken of Abraham Lincoln before his death. The vials of blood they have carried back to Minnesota contain vital clues to the mystery of spinocerebellar ataxia, a devastating neurological condition that affects about , Americans.


Ataxic patients are loosely defined as anyone with clumsiness and a lack of coordination from cerebellar degeneration. In many people, a genetic flaw causes the elaborately structured cells of the cerebellum to die off. The disease proceeds gradually, eventually robbing its victims of the ability to walk, hold objects, move their eyes, speak, and perform common activities of daily life. If patients lose control of the muscles for swallowing, they can develop pneumonia or even choke to death. Ranum began her Lincoln family gene hunt in when she received a phone call from an Ohio physician who described a patient with familial ataxia.

What reasons do people have for caring about the burial places of people long dead, individuals they may never have known? With communities under assault it is not hard to find an explanation. The treatment of human remains and burial places is a reflection of the way the living group of which they are a part.

In , an Ojibwe couple named Mr. Joe La Vierge lived next to a cemetery at Superior, Wisconsin, on Wisconsin Point, a spit of land stretching part way across the mouth of the St. Louis River on Lake Superior, near Duluth. They had lived in this area—part of what was known as Fond du Lac, the western end of Lake Superior—for 40 years and were keepers of the cemetery.

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Peacock, more than people representing more than seven generations were buried there. Frank Drew, a spokesman for those in opposition to cemetery removal said to a newspaper reporter:. Subsequently the cemetery was removed, but no commercial development was ever placed on the location, which remained in federal hands.

The new cemetery is, ironically, now eroding into the Nemadji River. Now more than 90 years later an effort is underway by the Ojibwe community to get back the land and put the remains back in their original location. Sonny Peacock, chairman of the Fond du Lac band, stated in that his community remembered well the events of the cemetery removal.

And we have a history of those individuals. The tie of the La Vierge family and of other Ojibwe people from that area to the cemetery at Wisconsin Point is not difficult to understand. It is a question of simple justice. Or maybe they are simply sacred. Whichever, they are sacred to us, and when we go there in fellowship—in communion—they become holy. You can feel it in the air, in a place large or small. In the spring the grass lies matted, uncut and untouched, on the mounds in Indian Mounds Park, high above the big bend in the Mississippi, where the river completes its course through Minneapolis and St.

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Paul and heads south. This sacred site, documented for hundreds of years, has been contested for the generations. Today there are only six of several dozen mounds left. In recent years it took action by the Minnesota Legislature to prevent intrusion by a local power company that would have marred the area of the park and the mounds. Once deemed sacred only by Indian people, these mounds have come to be respected by the community in which they are located.

The six mounds are now surrounded by iron fencing. The fencing has not always been there. Earlier generations of visitors climbed the mounds for the view and picnicked on the grass. Old photographs show walkways laid out in a spiral on several mounds, and other irregular paths worn into the slope from frequent climbing by visitors. For European-Americans there may have been no sense that these mounds were in any way sacred or that even if they were, that there was anything that ought to prevent climbing, sitting, and eating.

For Dakota people mounds like this are sacred both as burial places and as special places in the landscape. For both reasons mounds are believed to be places that should be revered and treated carefully. This is not to say that Indian people in all places agree on exactly how mounds should be treated. Differences depend in part on the context in which the mounds are located. One difference may be that these mounds are on the grounds of the Rainy River First Nation visitor center, on land controlled by the this Ojibwe community.

How 1, People Went Missing from Our Public Lands Without a Trace | Outside Online

This context protects the mounds from the desecrations that might occur in a busy city park. The conflict between a so-called utilitarian view of mounds and a sacred view is evident in a recent controversy in the town of Chaska on the Minnesota River in Carver County, Minnesota. As a result of efforts by of a city resident, John Varone, and a Native person, Wally Ripplinger, and other members of the Chaska Human Rights Commission, the city council voted in favor of taking this step to educate the public about how to properly respect the mound.

The actions were taken because residents continue to climb the mound and sit on it. The platform was removed in , but the mound was still treated simply as high spot in the park. Yet, hundreds of residents walk over the mounds during every city event. The fences will help solve the problem, although all three mounds should be cordoned off, not just the largest one. It might be argued that the fence separates the viewer from the place, undermining a sense of identification necessary to persuade the ignorant to aid in the protection of the sacred site. But the same might be said about rules that protect a cathedral such as Notre Dame in Paris.

Visitors are welcome there to view a beautiful place, to pray, to contemplate, to photograph, but not to throw frisbees or have picnics. What does it mean to say that something is sacred? In many ways it is simply another way to say that it is very important to a lot of people and should be treated reverently. Beyond that there is a lot of disagreement. Explanations about what general principles define sacred places differ.

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The consensus on definitions of sacredness varies from people to people, group to group, and generation to generation. It is not necessary to walk on a mound or dig it up to experience its beauty, to appreciate its graceful form. Mounds are beautiful in their shape and form and in their placement in the landscape. It must be believed that those who built the mounds had a highly developed sense of beauty, creating something comparable to the landscaping done in European and American cemeteries, but simpler and more restrained. Mounds have a beauty and consoling power, which provides yet another reason to preserve them even if it cannot be proven that there are human remains within them.

But the form of all kinds of Indian cemeteries were difficult for many Europeans to appreciate. Not one of all this multitude have died in peace, or with a knowledge of the true God. Here were no cultured monuments, no names, no epitaphs;—nothing but solitude and utter desolation. In James E. Colhoun contrasted the mounds with monuments constructed by ancient empires in the Near and Far East, about which many oral legends were still current.

There were no written messages to tell the story.

Lost Minnesota: Stories of Vanished Places (Paperback)

Colhoun understood one important main purpose of Indian cemeteries such as mounds—to proclaim through the Native American forms that they were in fact burial places, cemeteries, places to be respected, to be appreciated, to be left alone—though he regretted the lack of text in any language he could understand. But what more text is necessary than the beauty and form of a place that communicates its sacredness and its function as a cemetery, even to an outsider like Colhoun? This too is a kind of inscription on the landscape, one fairly clear in its meaning.

Those who built the mounds may have thought that it would be plain to everyone who saw them that they are sacred and should be left alone, except for further burials. But such beauty was not always enough to prevent modern visitors from climbing on the mounds in Indian Mounds Park.

And it may be that until such time as everyone understands the sacredness of mounds, then fences will be necessary, even if they make some people feel as though they are left out of the experience. Mounds are solemn places of burial.

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They are places of peace and beauty. They have a consoling power. They are inscriptions in the landscape describing the relationship of a people to the place in which they lived, a relationship that ought to be respected out of simple justice. Yet if all these attributes are misunderstood or not fully appreciated and society feels no need to protect mounds on their own merits, then consider the ultimate consequences of mound destruction: If mounds are not respected then no burial places are safe from destruction.

We stop often, and I tell him how places got their names. I tell him the locations of the natural springs that flow out of the hills. I tell him where the graves are on the sides of the hills so he knows why certain places feel the way they do. It seems such a long time ago when other people showed me the same places and told me the same stories.

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