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Hartman Mound in The Plains, Nov. 4, 2023.

The Friends of The Plains Mounds supports Native American culture, history

Historically, Native American culture and history have been wrongfully neglected by the U.S., especially on a local and regional level. However, one organization in Southeast Ohio is working to preserve and honor Native Americans, particularly through protecting earthwork sites, known as mound sites.

The Friends of The Plains Mounds is a newly established non-profit centered in The Plains led by President Alex Armstrong and Vice President David Brennan. Although nobody in the group identifies as Indigenous, the organization is passionate about ensuring the original inhabitants of Southeast Ohio are not forgotten. Brennan said the organization’s roots were first laid down in the 1970s when he began making signage for mound sites in the area that are now being reestablished with the creation of the group.

The Friends of The Plains Mounds meet every fourth Monday at The Plains Public Library, located at 14 S. Plains Rd. Meetings start at 5 p.m. and membership is $20 a year to be involved. Those who are interested can also find more information on their Facebook page or can reach out to the organization via email.

There are over 70 Native American mounds in the state of Ohio. Many of these mounds are located in Southeast Ohio, constructed by the Adena, Hopewell and Fort Ancient Native American Cultures.

“Our goal is to preserve the mounds, not dig them up,” Brennan said. “We are getting tired of everybody digging up mounds and writing scholarly papers about it and then all the artifacts get lost. These are the bones and artifacts of Native Americans, and we all feel it's incredibly disrespectful to them to just think we can come in and start digging up their ancestors’ remains.”

In the past year, the organization has officially registered as a non-profit corporation under Ohio law, as well as having reached IRS 501 (c)(3) non-profit status. The Friends of The Plains Mounds also was successful in getting eight of Ohio’s Native American mound sites to be designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites, alongside other organizations.

“Our Indigenous earthworks have been underappreciated for a long time in history, and I think the UNESCO designation represents a big part of a broader movement of people starting to give a little bit more of that recognition where it's due,” Armstrong said. “We are hoping that our organization can become part of that increased recognition that is best represented by the UNESCO designation.”

The group also wants to inform the public about the dangers of losing the mound sites, especially with the cultural and historical significance they hold. Kara Osborne, the board secretary for the non-profit, said there is an important purpose she feels that the mounds allow for the public to learn and further their education on Indigenous groups.

However, Osborne said that forgetting these mound sites could result in a lack of change and inclusion for Indigenous groups, which is The Friends of The Plains Mound’s biggest concern.

“For fear that it could get lost,” Osborne said. “Already, there's a lot of people who know a lot of stuff about it, but there's a lot of people who don't. With that, I think as time moves on and lands change and communities change, then there's always a risk of a piece of our history getting lost and forgotten.”

After having a successful turnout at this past summer’s Indian Mound Festival, the group has seen more community engagement and membership. Acting as their public launch together, Armstrong said there is a lot of emphasis in the community to protect mound sites.

“We did talk to a lot of people, and that was a great way to sound community interest, and there is a lot of community interest,” Armstrong said. “People who are saying, ‘Oh, I've been hoping for years that somebody would get something like this together and really work for these sites.’ People think that’s really cool which was very gratifying to see.”

Looking ahead to the future, The Friends of The Plains Mounds have an array of short and long-term goals they’d like to achieve, proving their dedication to spreading awareness about Native American culture and history.

One of the non-profit’s goals, according to Armstrong and Brennan, is to further their education efforts about mound sites. Brennan aspires to create a children’s book with the organization to educate young people about the topic. Meanwhile, the group also wants to keep setting up signage and guest speakers at their meetings to inform all ages of Native American mound sites.

The group’s major long-term goal is to keep preservation alive throughout Southeast Ohio, including Ohio University.

“There are tons of Indian mounds that were all over Athens that have been destroyed, and it's really sad,” Brennan said. “We need to get Ohio University more aware as well because sadly, without going into specifics, they have been a culprit on more than one occasion of having Indian mounds destroyed. We want Ohio University to be a leader in helping to preserve Native American sites.”

OU’s Athens campus occupies the traditional homelands of the Shawnee people and the Wahzhazhe (Osage) people as well as the Adena and Hopewell prior to that.

Osborne is excited for the future of the group as well, as she has seen an increase in involvement and collaborations with other organizations.

“I'm super excited to see that increase and the way that the group is evolving,” Osborne said. “It started off just a few of us getting together and geeking out over the history or geeking out over the lands, and now we're a full-on non-profit group and have gained so many more partnerships and collaborations already.”


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