Ohio History Connection's new American Indian liaison

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

The nonprofit is building bridgeswith the tribes who used to call Ohio home.

Stacey Halfmoonspeaks frankly about the removal of Native American tribes from their homelands across Ohio as settlers pushed west in the 1800s. "It's a painful history, and there's really no getting around that," she says. Halfmoon, a member of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma, has spent her career working on efforts to repair the damage from that era. Now she's bringing her experience to Ohio.

Halfmoon began her new duties in November as the first director of American Indian relations at the Ohio History Connection (the former Ohio Historical Society), which operates the Ohio History Center in North Columbus. "The American Indian history and the American Indian heritage in Ohio is tremendous," she says.

History Connection CEO Burt Logan says Halfmoon's hiring builds on his nonprofit's efforts to educate about the history, archeology, culture and artifacts of Native American tribes who once inhabited the state. "If we look at it morally, it just feels like it's the right thing to do," Logan says. "Ohio was home to many Native American tribes prior to white Europeans migrating to the Midwest and forcing their removal. We really have significant parts of their heritage and their culture."

Of his organization's 57 historic sites, Logan says about 20 have some relationship with that period of European settlement. Halfmoon cites the nationally recognized prehistoric Newark Earthworks and the Serpent Mound in Adams County as examples of the significant presence of ancient Native American cultures in Ohio. "I am very respectful of the history," Logan says.

But not everyone has been so respectful. Some dispute whether the Ohio History Center and other museums have any right to claim ownership of tribal sites and artifacts. In fact, after earning a degree in anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, Halfmoon worked for the Caddo Nation's Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) program. The 1990 federal law gives tribes the chance to reclaim sacred Native American artifacts-including cultural objects and human remains-owned by museums. She later was senior tribal liaison for the United States Department of Defense and director of community outreach and public programs for the American Indian Culture Center and Museum in Oklahoma City.

Ohio also has a problem with the looting of sacred artifacts on private lands. Four people within the last year have pleaded guilty to federal misdemeanors in connection to a Southern Ohio incident in which three men dug a hole the size of a small car and removed the remains of two women and six children buried nearly 4,000 years ago. The remains were later sold to a fourth man, who also pleaded guilty to federal charges. Advocates would like to a see stronger punishments for those who traffic in Native American remains.

"Ohio is probably the worst state for the protection of human remains on private land," says Oklahoma resident Ben Barnes, second chief of the Shawnee Tribe. "Archeological sites on private land are being looted to sell sacred native peoples' items on eBay. These are not mastodon bones."

Barnes sees Halfmoon's hiring as a positive step. He observed Halfmoon at work in Oklahoma and recalls her skills at managing rocky political and funding issues that stalled the American Indian Culture Center and Museum project. "She's well known in Indian country," he says. Many tribes that once lived in Ohio now call Oklahoma home; the federal government doesn't recognize any tribes in Ohio.

Logan says Ohio History Connection staff members have made 30 to 40 trips to Oklahoma. "Likewise, there have been a number of delegations from different tribes that have come to our sites." It's a moving experience, he says, for tribal elders to visit ancestral grounds in Ohio. For younger tribe members, "They begin to understand their cultural ties with Ohio."

Barnes says Halfmoon can play a key role in facilitating more of these visits. "We need to have more opportunities to bring native peoples, not just tribal leaders, into their homelands. Stacey can be the face to create this opportunity."

Halfmoon says she is eager to move forward with these relationships, making sure not to gloss over the painful past. "How can I help unify our efforts and strengthen our efforts?" she asks.