Nipmuc Nation says it doesn’t support lawsuit, petition to stop roundabout

  • A crew from Archeological Historical Services Inc. works at one of two dig sites near North King Street in Northampton, Oct. 3. In the foreground, from left, are Emma Wink, Quin Harper, James Poetzinger and Jordan Tabolt. In background, using a screener, is David Leslie. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 6/30/2020 6:59:33 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Nipmuc Nation of Massachusetts is taking issue with a petition and lawsuit calling for a halt to construction of a roundabout at a Native American site, saying that it is not calling for preservation of the site at this time.

John Skibiski, who owned the land in question, recently filed a lawsuit claiming that he is the owner of artifacts found at the site. In a statement released Monday night, Nipmuc Nation said the effort to stop the roundabout construction “is a matter between a private landowner and the state. It does not involve our Tribal community.”

Skibiski’s son, Greg Skibiski, started an online petition calling for officials to prevent the construction of the roundabout at the site off Hatfield Street, near North King Street, which is estimated to be at least 8,000 years old. “Do Not Destroy the 10,000 Year Old Ancient Village in Northampton,” reads the petition, which has gathered more than 50,000 signatures and calls for preservation of the site.

“Greg Skibiski’s claim, in his petition … to save the site, that he was joining with the ‘Native American Community,’ is false and misleading,” wrote Cheryll Toney Holley, chief of the Nipmuc Nation, and Tenah Richardson, chairwoman of the Nipmuc Nation Tribal Council, in the statement. “His petition does not represent any local Native American tribes in the region, nor any tribal individuals we are aware of, nor did he consult with the two close tribal communities of Nipmuc and Abenaki.”

Greg Skibiski issued a public apology on Tuesday.

“I would like to apologize on behalf of myself and the Skibiski family for implying on our public petition … that we speak on behalf of, or represent in any way, the Nipmuc Nation of Massachusetts,” he wrote, adding that he is in touch with other Native Americans.

The Nipmuc Nation also took issue with claims in a lawsuit filed by John Sibiski that the artifacts removed from the site have monetary value and should be returned to him, their rightful owner, as he owned the land before the state formally took it. More than 500 Native American artifacts were found last fall during an archaeological dig at the site, which experts trace back to the early Archaic period. The dig was triggered by the roundabout project planned for that intersection that is still moving forward next month.

“No tribal group has nor will support this claim,” the Nipmuc Nation’s leaders wrote. “The rightful owners of any and all artifacts are the ancestors themselves and all artifacts removed from the site should be returned to the earth.” The group is “one of the Tribal communities with kinship ties to the Indigenous ancestors of what is now Northampton, Massachusetts,” the statement reads.

The petition started by Greg Skibiski has “contributed to confusion among the public and has spread misinformation” Holley and Richardson wrote. “For example, site preservation only occurs if no additional archaeology were to be conducted; the archaeological process is itself a destructive process. Skibiski’s petition calls for action to preserve the ‘undisturbed ancient village site’; there is no evidence that this is a ‘village’ site, and through archaeology, disturbance has already occurred.”

Holley and Richardson also warn the public that someone has claimed to be a Nipmuc elder who has no ties to the group. They stated that their foremost concerns are preserving Nipmuc Nation’s history and protecting its ancestors.

“Given the current information and facts still to be discovered, the Nipmuc Nation is not calling for any action at this time regarding preservation of this site,” the group’s statement reads. “However, if construction at this site occurs, Tribal representatives will participate in monitoring.”

“We stand with many in one hopeful voice that an outcome can be reached that protects both our history and public safety,” they wrote.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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