Ken Demsey and the Irrigation Pond

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"Indian activist enrages builders

If Ken Demsey's picture was posted in construction trailers, it would have a red line through it.

"That man is the most universally hated person by developers in the state," said Jerry Bishop, an Akron developer. "Everyone hates him. He's nothing but trouble."

Developers dislike Demsey because, in the last 16 years, he has delayed 40 housing or commercial developments in Northern Ohio, searching for the bones of Indian ancestors. But after all the holes were dug and the dirt sifted for shards of bones or artifacts, none of the 40 sites was deemed to be historically significant.

Demsey of Parma has never stopped a development. But he has persuaded state historical officials to consider demanding that developers perform expensive, time-consuming archaeological surveys at more than 200 construction projects in search of American Indian burial grounds.

Through his efforts, the state ordered developers of 40 projects to undertake the survey.

The cost ranges from $3,000 to $4,000 to several hundred thousand dollars and could take several months. If suspicions about the presence of a historic site are raised, a project cannot proceed until the Ohio Historic Preservation Office investigates and rules.

Demsey, 41, is 1/16 Lakota Sioux, which he says drives him to protect Indian sites and other important Indian sites. He speaks slowly in a soft monotone about his amateur archaeological activities and goes into great detail about each site.

Demsey can cite sources and information about ancient Indians in Ohio, though some, like David Snyder with the state historic preservation office, say Demsey's assertions are sometimes wrong.

Demsey does not have a degree in archaeology but says he has taken "enough college courses to get one" and has volunteered at numerous archaeological digs. He holds two associate degrees in applied business and supports himself as an environmental consultant, mapping and measuring wetlands for developers.

Demsey is a fixture at city council meetings in Parma, Independence and other communities. Some city officials, recalling his lengthy speeches, roll their eyes at the mention of his name.

Parma officials got firsthand experience of Demsey's passion when he questioned the site of the city's new Justice Center. The project was delayed because of a wetlands issue, but an archaeological dig to search for evidence of Indian artifacts cost the city $9,500, city Safety Director Bob Dybzinski said. The new Justice Center is scheduled to open this spring.

While city officials declined to speak unkindly on the record about a local resident, Bishop felt no such constraints.

"Everything that man says is a lie," said Bishop, who had to prove his Kings Woods housing development in Lorain did not sit on an Indian graveyard. "He delayed my project for four months and cost me $20,000 for a survey. You know what? After all his claims of artifacts on this land, you know what the real archaeologists found? Nothing. Zero.

"It was a total waste of time and money," Bishop added. "We got the green light from the state historical people to go, but what about the time we lost because he thought there was something buried out there?" ...

Mike Moran can sympathize with Bishop. Moran is the developer of Regency Highlands, a group of 144 condos near completion in Parma. The project was delayed at least three months while archaeologists searched for an Indian burial site Demsey said existed.

"I don't understand it," Moran said. "He told the city that this is a known burial ground. They haven't found anything."

The archaeological study cost about $7,000 to $8,000, and Moran said he loses $9,000 every month the project is delayed. So far, Moran estimates Demsey's claims have cost his company about $37,000.

And even though Moran said he received dozens of form letters protesting his construction, Moran blames Demsey.

"I heard about him from other developers," Moran said. "He throws a monkey wrench in things and he does Indians a disservice." ...

David Snyder, preservation manager of the Ohio Historical Preservation Office, said he would not discourage anyone, including Demsey, from raising historical issues at proposed construction sites.

"When anyone calls, we consider what they have to say," said Snyder. "I am struck that I almost never get evidence from Ken, just suspicions and allegations. Whenever we looked into something he alleged, we found nothing."

Snyder said he hears from Demsey "four or five times a year."

Unknown to Snyder, the actual number is much higher. Many years ago, Demsey said he feared he had worn out his welcome at the office and came up with an idea: He had others raise questions for him. He said he wrote or co-wrote dozens of requests for archaeological surveys and had other people submit them ...

Demsey says he gets most of his referrals for development sites from the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, Colo. However, an official of the group in charge of referrals did not recognize Demsey's name and could not find his name in their computer database of referrals. He had no explanation for the discrepancy.

The Colorado group noted that they refer burial questions to the North American Indian Cultural Center in Akron. When asked if the referrals were actually made to the center and then referred to him, Demsey concurred.

But the center's former director said that was not the case, either.

"We did not refer any cases from the Native American Rights Fund to Ken," Clark Hosick said ...

The new center director severed the relationship after it and Demsey were sued by Jerry Bishop ..."

Minutes of the Avon Council meeting of May 26, 1998, Avon, Ohio


Mr. Ken Demsey representative of North American Cultural Center, ...

"What we're looking at here is a wooded area with a lake that is not claimed and a stream. There's got to be hundreds of trees that have to be timbered out of there. They need a permit to cut down those trees.

... as a Native American, the people that are buried within those encampments have a right to stay there ..."

Addendum to the Minutes -- Remarks by Leonard Piazza regarding the LAKE around which Native Americans supposedly camped:

"... my recollection of the existing pond on the Bennett parcel [part of the site of Avon Commons shopping center]

This pond was dug in the fall of 1936 by myself, Mr. Frank Pickering and Mr. Schmetzer the owner at the time. The pond was dug to provide a reservoir for the irrigation of Mr. Schmetzer's Nursery and Christmas Tree stock. ..."

Leonard Piazza, Avon, Ohio

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