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A sign near the corner of Indian Hills and Garden streets in West Newbury references the killing of a Native American by a settler. The West Newbury Historic Commission has voted to remove the sign.

WEST NEWBURY — At a time when schools and professional sports teams are questioning the use of Native American mascots, the Historic Commission has taken its own step toward inclusion and setting the historical record straight.

At a virtual meeting Tuesday evening, the commission voted to remove a historical marker on Indian Hill Street opposite the entrance to Garden Street that references an Indigenous person killed in West Newbury.

The sign reads: “Near this site the one Native American reported killed in West Newbury was killed by Hananiah Ordway.”

Resident Molly Hawkins approached the commission because she believes the sign is historically inaccurate and racially insensitive. Hawkins contends there is no substantial archival evidence to support the claim.

“It seems to be a family story that was passed down orally,” she said, adding that it glorifies a murderous act that has no clear motive against an Indigenous person.

In researching the story, Hawkins noted that the person killed was described as having rum and not gunpowder in his wooden keg – perpetuating the stereotype of “the drunken Indian’’ as a way to invalidate Ingenious people’s personhood, she said.

The roadside sign also lacks historical context of the time involving war between the English and French and its impact on Native Americans.

Hawkings proposed that wording for a new sign might read: “Near this site Native Pawtuckets once lived and farmed. Their population was lost to displacement, disease, enslavement and warfare.”

Saying that the sign was in some ways an artifact whose time has passed – like Confederate statues in the South – Commissioner Elisa Grammer agreed the sign should be removed.

“I don’t think this issue is going to go away or get any better,” she said.

Chairman Bob Janes agreed with what Hawking proposed but said the decision would ultimately rest with town officials.

“We need a fairly decent heart-to-heart discussion with the Select Board,” he said.

Colleague Dot Cavanaugh agreed a lengthy discussion about the new wording is needed. She did not want a message that was “too hard” – opting instead for the focus to be on a positive aspect of the Indigenous people from the area.

“We want something factual based and positive,” said Commissioner Jen Conway.

The commission thanked Hawkings for bringing the issue to their attention. She agreed to seek input outside the meeting and return with a revised proposal for wording for a new sign.

In 2003, Greg Jennell, a Pentucket Regional High School junior at the time, undertook a yearlong project to replace 11 historical markers around town in his quest to earn Eagle Scout recognition. Jennell is the son of David and Kathy Jennell of Main Street.

The signs were put up by the Bicentennial Commission in 1975, but most disappeared over the years. Jennell was committed to making the new markers as close in appearance and content as the originals.

Other locations where Jennell and fellow Boy Scouts from Troop 26 installed signs include: 127 Main St., where Enoch Noyes started the nation’s first comb business; 720 Main St., the original site of the First Parish Meeting House, established in 1711; 900 Main St., birth site of Cornelius Conway Felton, president of Harvard University from 1860-62; a site opposite 142 Crane Neck St. where Ensign Enoch Little built the first home on Crane Neck Hill in 1709; first site of the second Parish Meeting House on Meeting House Hill built in 1731; the birthplace of Jacob Bale on the east side of Baily’s Lane who named his settlement in Vermont after his hometown; the site of a Native American raid near the Phillips property on Turkey Hill Street in 1695; the site where the Quaker Meeting House was erected in 1825 at Roger and Turkey Hill Street; and 16 Pleasant St., where an encampment of the 19th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers was based in 1861.

In other business, the commissioners discussed with Wendy Reed of the Select Board the possibility of using Community Preservation Act funding to restore – rather than replace – the Middle Street bridge.

The Historic Commission has an open seat available. Contact the Select Board’s office at wnewbury.org to apply.

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