Seven stone relics unearthed in the 1980s from an ancient Missisquoi Abenaki burial ground in Swanton will be returned to tribal members, the Preservation Trust of Vermont announced Friday.
The relics surfaced in early March when the people who used to own the land put them up for auction. Upon discovering that they were listed on Duane Merrill & Company's auction website, members of the Abenaki community — as well as state employees in the Division of Historic Preservation — scrambled to stop the sale scheduled for March 30.
Seven Days covered the story in this week's paper
, but the artifacts' fate remained in limbo at the time it was published. Ethan Merrill, who co-owns the Williston-based auction company, had agreed to take the items off the auction block — in deference to the Abenakis' beliefs — and he said he was working to broker a compromise between the consignors, John and Anita Boucher, and tribal representatives. Another plan, in which a private benefactor would purchase the artifacts and donate them to UVM's Fleming Museum, fell through last week.
The Preservation Trust, a nonprofit founded in 1980 "to help communities save and use historic places," announced that it had helped facilitate a deal that was agreeable to the Bouchers and Abenaki tribal members.
The organization provided the following statement: "The Preservation Trust of Vermont has made an arrangement with the Boucher family and Duane Merrill to secure the Abenaki artifacts referenced in a Seven Days
story that appeared on March 26th. The artifacts are now stored in a safe place and will be repatriated to the Missisquoi Abenaki community."
Executive director Paul Bruhn explained, "We were contacted about this after the story appeared and were asked if we could help." He declined to provide additional details — who approached the Preservation Trust and whether money changed hands — citing the delicacy of the situation. But, he said, "It's quite amazing that this story is in process of having a very happy ending."
Abenaki leaders had described reinterment as the only acceptable solution, explaining that they consider it sacrilege to disturb ancestral burial grounds. "These are almost like the bones of our ancestors," said Bernie Mortz, who recently stepped down as chief of the Koasek Abenaki.