Since its establishment in 1968, the Aurora Historical Society has acquired holdings that are the envy of museums the size of Aurora’s. To date, the Society’s collection has 3,190 objects, 4,299 photos, and 5,194 documents. Items are on display in both the museum and the Deed House, with larger items being stored in offsite locations.
The Society has become selective in its holdings with items relating specifically to Aurora’s history or that of Western Reserve. Several years ago the Society did determine that part of its collection should be deaccessioned.
In early June, 1970, while excavation was underway for the Aurora Shores housing development, the operator of a backhoe George Butler of the Nightingale Excavating Co. of Newbury reported that while moving a load of dirt, a "human skull rolled" down the pile.
He soon discovered other bones in the area of the excavation. He immediately notified the Aurora Police, which investigated the scene. Two skulls, three leg bones and a rib were recovered. The FBI was contacted and began a criminal investigation.
The remains were sent by the FBI to Washington D.C. for identification. Aurora Police Chief Arthur Robitaille reported that the lab in Washington would be able to "reveal the age of the bones and also the possibility of whether or not violent death was involved."
Dr. Clifford Evans, chairman of the anthropology division of the Smithsonian Institute, identified the remains as those of two Native Americans, male and female, dating back approximately 500 years. The male was determined to be between 35 to 60 years old and was approximately 5-foot-7. The female was determined to be between the ages of 30 and 40.
Both sets of remains were consistent with being related to Woodland Indians of the Iroquois-Algonquin-Lanape tribes. The fact that they were found in a peat bog provided an environment for the preservation of the bones. There was no evidence that the two had met a violent death.
Dr. Evans surmised that they may have drowned at a time when the lake level was much higher.
While the Smithsonian expressed a desire to retain the remains since they did not have any specimens that old in their collection, Aurora police requested that they be returned. Upon return, the remains were sent to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, which confirmed the Native American identification.
The developer of Aurora Shores sought legal possession of the remains since they were discovered on his property. It was his intention to put them on public display in the Aurora Shores community center. However, the Portage County Coroner determined that the Aurora Historical Society should get custody, stating that the decisions for the disposition of the remains fell to his office.
The remains were initially kept in the Society’s museum storage area and then were stored in an off-premises location. They were returned to the museum in the spring of 2016 and placed in the storage area. They were never put on public display.
The Aurora Historical Board of Trustees determined that retention of the remains and their display to the public was inappropriate and that they should be repatriated to a Native American organization, where they would respectfully and appropriately be buried.
Through coordination with University Hospital’s Ravenna Campus, the remains were scanned for documentation purposes.
Through the work of Michael Thal, a Society trustee, arrangements for repatriation were through an Eastern Woodland Native American organization. Donna Augustine, "Thunderbird Turtle Woman," traveled from Maine to take possession of the remains.
She belongs to Mi’kmaq tribe, located in northern Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. She is considered an Elder of her people. She has conducted ceremonies for the people for 40 years and was instrumental in helping to bring back the spiritual part of the Mi’kmaq culture after generations of assimilation.
She is an advocate for the spirit of her ancestors and has been working on repatriation since 1977.
Native Americans have a profound respect for mother earth and for using the gifts of the earth on their path for physical, spiritual and emotional well-being.
When the remains of the two individuals were unearthed, their spirits were disturbed. A portion remained in the spirit world, while a portion remained in the present. To find peace, they would have to be reunited.
Donna Augustine performed a "smudging" ceremony using natural herbs of sage, sweet grass, juniper, and cedar. Pinon needles were used to clear away the negative energy and to invite in peace and harmony for those present and the museum.
The remains were transported to Maine and were buried in an undisclosed private location, where the spirits of the two Native Americans would be reunited.
Kudley is president of the Aurora Historical Society.