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Woman from Greenwich says cliff wall in Stamford claims Indigenous art, but preservation and Indigenous groups have doubts

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STAMFORD – Kathleen Patricia Thrane has a small arsenal of books on the indigenous people of Southwest Connecticut in the back of her car.

When she opens a tome to find information about sacred figures in Indigenous art, almost every page is littered with notes and underlining. Sticky notes – some with notations and at least one with detailed doodle – fall from a book as she searches for entry to Mesingw, a spirit of the Lenape tradition.

For much of the past year she has been on an archaeological mission.

Thrane, who lives in Greenwich, wants to prove that the bluff behind a pending development site across from Mill River Park is home to prehistoric Native American art unlike anything previously found in Connecticut.

There is a long list of organizations that she must convince, including the city, the State Historic Preservation Office, and the tribal organizations of Native American traditions that she wants to save.

All of them approached his demands with extreme caution.

“I’m open to the idea that there might be sites that I don’t know about,” Catherine Labadia, deputy state historic preservation officer, told the Stamford Advocate. However, there are big hurdles in proving this hypothesis, she said.

“There are examples of indigenous rock art throughout the region, but they are not made in this style and do not represent the same iconography,” she added.

Thrane’s colleague Johnna Paradis is the person who initially identified the cliff in question. She claims she noticed the wall while walking on the West Side and immediately started exploring. Paradis had seen the gray and copper rock wall before – she had lived in Stamford her entire life – but said the site was different this time around.

Immediately she called Thrane, whom she knew as a friend and amateur archaeologist. The couple immediately embarked on reconnaissance of the site and preserved the top half of a craggy stone wall which they say contains depictions of sacred figures from local indigenous traditions.

At first, their efforts were focused on finding the location. Thrane loosely calls herself a “professional archaeologist” and has a certificate in the field which she obtained from Norwalk Community College in the early 2000s.

In 2001, while completing the certificate course, Thrane helped launch another campaign to save Indigenous history in Stamford, an effort supported by the Connecticut Historic Preservation Office and a local Algonquin tribal association.

These skills helped the two write a 37-page article on the new location, dubbing it “Mataubaun,” a name that appears in a 19th-century story of Stamford written by Reverend Elijah Baldwin Huntington. According to the Museum of the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, Connecticut, the name also means “it’s the day” to the Delaware residents of the region.

Thrane, in her article, writes that the name means “standing rock” and says she thinks the rock along Mill River Park has heavenly value.

“The Art of Light and Shadow on the Cliff is a visual performance, a tale of sacred beings mentioned in oral histories,” she writes in her article. The shapes of the wall cast shadows on the cliff and “transform in 6 hours on sunny days”.

To help identify the shapes better, Thrane enlisted the help of Yale-trained archaeologist Vance Tiede, whose work spans everything from “astro-archeology at Stonehenge” to “Babylonian ziggurats and Chinese pyramidal tombs.”

The research paper, sent en masse, has reached offices and inboxes all the way to Washington, DC, as part of Thrane’s next phase of work: getting it officially recognized.

While Thrane said the search was exhausting, persuasion proved more difficult.

The city and SHPO said they believed the indentations and cracks in the rock were from blasting, construction work and natural erosion over the years, and not from Indigenous artists.

And Thrane contacted state and local authorities and advocates for the preservation of the site; she tried to reach Governor Ned Lamont, U.S. Representative Jim Himes, D-Conn., and dozens of academics to draw attention to her claims with little luck.

In addition to proving the potential historical significance of the site, Thrane and Paradis have said they want to stop a construction project approved in 2016 and planned for the plot. A developer plans to put 110 residential units and some commercial spaces in front of the rock face. In line with Stamford’s affordable housing requirements, 10% of the units will be reserved for people earning 50% of Stamford’s median income.

“The only thing that should be built there is a museum,” Thrane said repeatedly.

The need for affordable housing is at the heart of Thrane’s strategy to save the site. She says the affordable housing requirement is tied to federal funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development since residents pay for their affordable housing with HUD-funded housing vouchers. Federal money means the federal government has the power to step in, she said.

For this reason, Thrane wants the government to conduct an impact study through a federal process called a Section 106 review that “requires federal agencies to consider the effects of projects they carry out, approve. or fund on historic properties, ”according to the Council. Advice on historical preservation.

But housing vouchers don’t mean a project receives federal money, according to Stamford land use chief Ralph Blessing.

“Section 8 coupons are given to people, not households,” Blessing said. And people with apartments below the market price don’t necessarily pay with vouchers. Instead, individual buildings administer their affordable housing programs and must ensure that residents meet the income requirements for their buildings.

But beyond whether the federal government is or should be involved in Thrane’s preservation efforts, Susan Bachor, interim director of the Delaware Tribe Historic Preservation Office, has more specific concerns about Thrane’s efforts.

The nation of Delaware has no trace of this type of light and shadow art, an obstacle Thrane wants to overcome by having the site investigated further. But Bachor – who worked for the people of Delaware for seven years, although she is not from the country – says most of the rock art documented by the people of Delaware are petroglyphs: directly anchored images in stone.

But there is yet to be discovered about the history of the Delaware people, she said, in part because of the painful history of the genocide and the displacement of the Delaware tribe.

“We were one of the first, if not the first of the first tribes, to be forcibly evicted,” she said. “And this early withdrawal, and the number of deaths that have occurred from disease and forced migration, has really caused a knowledge gap.”

Due to the violent past, the people of Delaware are still learning their history and examining previously verified artifacts. The Delaware Tribe Historic Preservation Office is constantly called upon to review other cases of erasure of its culture through the same federal review process that Thrane wants to trigger in Stamford. To some extent, Bachor said there is so much work to be done that the tribe she represents cannot weigh in on projects like Thrane’s.

“We have so many fires burning in our homelands of known importance, of known importance, that sometimes those projects that are just on the outskirts of our territories that are a bit sketchy will be put aside until they can be revisited, ”she said. noted.

However, as it stands, the tribe has no intention of interfering in Thrane’s work. According to Bachor, the matter is still under investigation and the origins of the site cannot be validated.

Even with a federally recognized tribal organization expressing doubts, Thrane refuses to give up. She said she believed in the site, that she believed in what she had found.

“We have so little left,” Thrane said over the phone. “We can’t lose anymore. “

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