Birch Hill Cemetery grave sites damaged by both vandalism and erosion

Published: May. 5, 2020 at 6:51 PM AKDT
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The Fairbanks Native Association (FNA) announced Monday that multiple grave sites were vandalized in the Alaska Native portion of the Birch Hill Cemetery.

The Fairbanks Police Department have concluded that "damage to 2 graves was definitely vandalism, and there was extensive damage in the area that gave the appearance of vandalism (knocked over vases, flower pots, etc.) but are the result of ground erosion."

There is no evidence to identify any suspects, while much of the sites have been put back together by family members.

The City of Fairbanks Engineer visited the cemetery and determined the soil at the cemetery is silt and "very susceptible to erosion." They have also spoken with FNA executive director Steve Ginnis about resolutions for the erosion, including the use of a "jute mat over disturbed ground and seed as soon as possible, or use hydro seed in the area since they have so much disturbed ground."

In regards to security, FPD says they are planning to do additional patrols in the area and have advised FNA on ways to deter criminal activity.

"I plan to talk to the Mayor and have some discussions with him about security at the grave site and hopefully we can come up with solution working together on it," Ginnis said. "I know there is going to be a cost associated with it and whatever that cost is, is something I would be interested in working together with the City to try to come up with the resources that would be needed."

FNA has taken over the portion of the cemetery "without a budget."

"Initially the thought was it was going to be a Native Cemetery that would be similar to out in the villages where the community takes good care of it," Ginnis said. "Nobody really thought about the cost of maintaining it. I have been able to piece some of my staff, mainly the facilities department to maintain the area."

"We continue to provide the shovels and the picks and the jackhammers and things of that nature for the people to use. Unfortunately we have a shed up there and that shed has been continuously broken into, so we are continuously restocking the shovels and the axes and things of that nature."

Additional damage included the removal of fencing and flower vases, according to FPD.

"I would like to apologize to those families that had their love ones buried up here for what happened to their grave sites. It is not just our Indian way, we are to respect those who have passed on and take care of them even after their gone; maintaining their grave site and things of that nature."

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