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August 4, 2013

New park with Native American heritage dedicated in Sullivan County

SULLIVAN — The Spirit Tree (with a sign that says “honoring the Woodland Indians”) overlooked a group of people Saturday morning as they sat in benches and lawn chairs assembled in a semi-circle for the dedication of a new historical park in Sullivan County.

Close to 100 people, some dressed in garments signifying their Native American heritage, witnessed the dedication that included some singing, drums and native presentation ceremony to officially open Waapaahsiki Siipiiwi Mound Historical Park at Fairbanks.

Organizers said the Miami Nation of Indians in the state of Indiana named the park, Waapaahsiki Siipiiwi, which means Wabash River, in their Algonquian language.

“We have created a park to honor two Indian mounds that have been historically documented,” said Susan Petoskey, member of The Sullivan County American Indian Council.

“Mounds are normally along rivers,” she said, adding that the mound surrounded by the trail at the park is a ceremonial mound.

The property is owned by Indiana Michigan Power, AEP but the  Sullivan County American Indian Council, a non-profit organization, is the caretaker of the land and park.

This site was supposedly inhabited more than 1,000 years ago.

According to files provided by the council, archeologists conducted a shovel dig around the site — not on the mound — in recent years and dated the site to the prehistoric era, specifically 500-1650 C.E.

“Indigenous people were presen[t] at this mound site prior to European contact,” one of the documents stated.

“Within a half mile is the river’s edge called the “Narrows,” a well-documented crossing during the War of 1812,” according to another document.

At the present day park, visitors can see the work of local carvers and read about the history of the site. They can also take a walk on a trail that starts with a sign that says “7 Grandfather Teachings” and continues on to list the teachings such as wisdom, love and respect as visitors walk on.

The park was designed to communicate deeper meanings.

“The trail is not exactly straight because life is not a straight path,” Reggie Petoskey, a member of the council said.

His two kids, Harlie and Kenny, enjoy the park regularly and plan to visit a lot.

“I just like the design,” Kenny said.

“I think it’s pretty. I really like it,” Harlie said, adding that her favorite thing to do is sit on the wikiup, a hut normally made of brushwood or covered with mats.

Kenny’s favorite is the big carving of bigfoot.

And it is really all about teaching the future generation of this part of history.

State Senator John Waterman has been a supporter of the project since its inception.

“This is a ceremonial site, a historic site,” he said at the dedication.

Waterman said the park is a “tourist attraction… that can bring thousands of people to the area.”

But even more important, kids that visit can learn about the lives of those who have lived in the area, Waterman said.

And attendees brought their family along.

Council secretary Christina Wiggington brought her two young kids, Olivia, 2, and Luke, 8 months old. She has another one on the way.

“It’s a relief that we’re able to complete it [the park],” she said, adding that they want to share it with the community.

The purpose, she said, was “to educate… to let them know this is the way of life back then.”

More than education, it is also about tradition.

It is important “to keep traditions alive,” she said.

“If you don’t teach your kids [the traditions], all traditions stop,” she added.

And this accomplishment is also a source of pride for the parents.

“As a Native American, I am honored to participate in this project to preserve and protect our past and offer resources for the future,” Susan Petoskey said.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell

@tribstar.com.

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