The Aztalan offering Stone is now missing

Dear Editor,

It is thought that sometime on the night of July 8, 2008, the stone disappeared from near one of the sacred hills at Aztalan. Around two feet in diameter, the “Grandfather” was discovered during the 1990s by then caretaker Don Shuler, a man of Mohawk heritage. He found it one day while clearing out some brush just south of the so-called Princess Mound.

In this mound was buried sometime in the eleventh or twelfth century a young hunchback woman. In her twenties, she was laid to rest upon a robe of sea-shell discs. When her resting-place was breached early in the twentieth century, her remains were put on display in the Milwaukee Public Museum. When this disgrace was removed through protest by Indigenous people, her bones were tossed indiscriminately with others, into a box in the basement of the museum.

The discovery of the offering stone was received by traditional Native Americans with respect and homage. The stone was re-sanctified.

People of the dominant culture, on the other hand, chose to regard it with suspicion. It was not necessarily a part of Aztalan culture, it was said. In the days leading up to the loss, on the Fourth of July, Aztalan Days were held, a festival focusing on the pioneer town as well as the ancient site. On this day a map was handed out, and it showed the location of the stone. Within four days afterward, the Grandfather was gone.

I grieve in the wake of this disrespect, and as a Native American who has for almost forty years attended the Spirit here, I feel personally violated. This is not simply because of the immediate material loss. My larger concern is the enormous disconnection which is habit within the dominant culture.

It is not true to perceive two separate things, two separate time-scapes. Turtle Island, our Indigenous landscape, did not suddenly go away with the incursion of European culture in this hemisphere. True Spirit is still in this place, and at a sacred site such as Aztalan, traditional ways are still being practiced. There is no rationale of “that was then, this is now.” The offering stone serves the same purpose as it always has: it is a focal point of Native prayers. Aztalan has always been a place of Spirit.

And a person is not able to make the anthropological distinction, saying that something would be, for example, not culturally “middle-mississippian” (or Aztalan) but “woodland,” as if to diminish it, to deny its value. To do so is to not see the arrangement and totality of the sacred hills and their consort objects. The eye is forced to view the holistic quality of the sacred landscape in order to carry an understanding of it.

To take this one step further: these hills and stones were placed here at various moments over more than a thousand years. They still have their power as sacred attributes. They are, in that regard, beyond time. And now that a piece of the landscape, in the person of the offering stone, has been removed by some recent misguided soul, once again is the world taken into imbalance. This is a truth one should know.

Jim Stevens

Jim Stevens is a Seneca poet and flute player living in northern Wisconsin. He edited the famous, 3 volume collection of Wisconsin stories of place, The Journey Home: The Literature of Wisconsin Through Four Centuries (Madison: North Country Press, 1989). He currently is editor of Yukhika-latuhse, the Native American writing journal sponsored by Oneida Arts Program. Jim joined the Sacred Sites Run/Walk from Aztalan to Koshkonong Mounds, this last June 20, part of the country-wide events for National Native Day of Prayer for Sacred Places.

 

 

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