An Osage Nation official dodges questions regarding the tribe’s ancestral claim to Sugarloaf Mound.
by Bill Newmann
Anthropologist Andrea Hunter stood at the foot of Sugarloaf Mound yesterday and declared it Indian territory.
She led a convoy of Osage Indians, including tribal elders, to the South St. Louis landmark on a tour bus to teach them about their historical connection to the ancient earthwork.
The history they were shown may be in the process of being rewritten. Or rather – written for the first time.
Hunter, the historic preservation director of the Oklahoma-based tribe, is the one doing most of that writing lately, pushing the ancestral linkage in her scientific research on behalf of the Osage. But when asked about the historical ties the Osage have to the mound, Hunter’s terse response sounded more like that of a real estate developer.
“It’s our property,” she says.
Osage ancestral ties to Sugarloaf and the Mississippi River Valley mound builders are a source of continuing controversy [Lore or Lie?, JOD, March 6]. The problem is that the dozens of local mounds were constructed hundreds of years before the first written records of the area were made in 1673. Aside from Sugarloaf, St. Louis’ mounds were destroyed more than a century ago. The Osage purchased the site, which is wedged between Interstate 55 and South Broadway, in 2009 for $235,000. The acquisition lacked formal tribal council approval.
Until yesterday, the only Osage official willing to speak about the mound on the record was tribal congressman William “Kugee” Supernaw III. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s no real evidence that it was [of] Osage origin.” he says. “All the evidence that anyone’s ever been able to come up with is that [the Osage] came long after the mounds had been abandoned by the people that built them.”
Deidre Bigheart, Osage director of operations, confirmed at the site yesterday the tribe’s plans to restore the mound and erect an Osage-heritage center. Bigheart says it is the tribe’s mission to preserve Sugarloaf for all of Indian Country, adding “It’s tough to keep stuff pristine, especially in urban areas.”
Hunter worked in league with then-Principal Chief Jim Gray when he purchased the parcel under questionable circumstances and has since been promoting the Osage as descendants of the mound builders. But Supernaw is not convinced Hunter’s claims are accurate. “Whenever we’ve pressed her for evidence, what she’s come up with won’t stand any kind of scrutiny,” he says.
In response to Supernaw’s allegations, Hunter says: “There are a lot of theories out there, that’s for sure.”
“No science is exact,” adds Bigheart.
C.D. Stelzer contributed information for this article.