Jim Peters, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the executive director of the state’s Commission on Indian Affairs, said he considers Schneider’s parcel historically very significant.
“I would like to see that preserved — it is special,” he said. But beyond the requirement for the developer to leave the graves undisturbed, there is little anyone can do to stop the project, Peters said. “This is the unfortunate reality we deal with in America.”
Schneider must abide by the state’s “unmarked burial law” — leaving all graves in place and protected, Peters said. “It’s what the law allows; you can’t deny the property owner. He’s graciously agreed not to build on the burials,” Peters said.
There was an effort by state tribes to buy the property, but Peters said it was abandoned when the economy soured.
According to assessor records, Schneider paid $835,00 for the 24-acre site. Geoffroy said the developer has already sold four street-front lots.
LaBonte said the Planning Board is “not trying to stop development” on the land. “But let’s think before we start to rip the site apart,” he said. “Once the backhoes get in, there’s the potential to destroy an archeologically important site. I don’t think anyone wants that.”
Middleborough Police Chief Bruce D. Gates said he has first-hand knowledge that Native Americans lived on the site: He has been finding artifacts there since the 1960s, when his father leased nearby fields. “I remember my father would plow the fields and find arrow heads. I still have them,” he said.
Hoffman said it is not known whether the site was a summer camp or used year-round. There’s evidence the site could be the village of Nemasket: It is on a major river corridor and near river falls that would aid in catching the native alewife during its springtime migration, he said.
The presence of a longhouse and 26 other permanent structures could indicate year-round occupation of the site, but Hoffman said more study is needed before any conclusions can be drawn.
He said the presence of a longhouse on the site is very unusual, because the Iroquois of New York typically built that type of structure.
Alice C. Elwell can be reached at email@example.com.