Students, community clean up Native American burial grounds

By Stephanie Brzezinski | 11/2/13 7:24pm


GVL / Laine Girard
Eugene, a member of the local native community, educated students on tribal traditions and rituals before the students entered into the mounds.

by Laine Girard / Grand Valley Lanthorn

Students from Grand Valley State University worked with members of the West Michigan community on Saturday to clean up a Native American burial ground as part of Native American Heritage Month.

The day of service, led by GVSU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, began with an introduction by Eugene Strong, who has been working to preserve similar burial mounds in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

Strong said cleaning up the area is important because it shows honor and respect in the fight against the “desecration and disrespect” of the mounds.

“They want to remove the mounds because that is the final act of genocide,” Strong said. “You’re helping the ancestors; you’re helping the culture and preventing the final act of genocide.”

The Norton Mounds, located just a few miles south of the Grand Rapids city limits, are one of the few remaining traditions of the Hopewell, an ancient civilization from more than 2,000 years ago. The Grand Rapids Public Museum is working to preserve and protect this area, which its website states is “one of the most important archaeological sites in Michigan.”

Strong said there is an increasing need to raise awareness about Native American history and culture. He added that many people have trouble naming Native Americans in history, which he sees as a problem because the culture is disappearing. Preserving the mounds is one way to preserve the culture because, as Strong said, the mounds are sacred and part of who the Native Americans are.

“We are all related,” Strong said. “All people are important and here for a good reason. Just enjoy being who you are.”

Terry Frechette, chairman of the West Michigan American Indian Movement, agreed with Strong.

Frechette said a lot of people do not care about the mounds and will often climb on them or throw trash into the area. He said this is why they try to clean the mounds at least once a year, and other Native Americans will teach the significance of them.

In addition to the OMA, the GVSU Native American Student Association was involved in the day of service. The group works in both the campus and the West Michigan community to promote Native American culture through service learning opportunities, such as the day spent cleaning up the Norton Mounds.

The NASA will host Joy Harjo—a well-known poet, performer, writer and saxophone player—at 4 p.m. in the Cook-DeWitt Center on Nov. 6 as part of the Professionals of Color Lecture Series.

For more information about upcoming events honoring Native American Heritage Month, visit

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