For several years now the winter solstice event at Serpent Mound, where candles or luminaries were placed so to outline the Native American effigy mound, has been canceled and this year will be no different.

Serpent Mound is within a privte park in Peebles, Ohio, but under control of the Ohio History Connection (OHC), and it was the OHC which made the decision in 2017 to end the event at the suggestion of Native Americans. Most notably the Shawnee, who claim ancestral stewardship of the effigy mound, which is the largest on the planet. Fascinating is how one of the Serpent’s coils aligns with the winter solstice sunrise while its head aligns with the summer solstice sunset.

The “Lighting of the Serpent” was put on by Friends of the Serpent Mound, an eclectic mix of Peebles’ locals – both Native and non-Native – who take great pride in protecting and promoting the effigy mound. The event was a highlight for this region during the winter. A place in Ohio seemingly lost to time, as there is limited things to do coupled with a stagnate economy.

The OHC stated in 2017, “The Ohio History Connection seeks to support programming and events that align with the sacred American Indian heritage of the site and provide authentic educational experiences for the public. This event does not align with these goals.” Sources told the Free Press that OHC officials will be onsite today (winter solstice) to make sure candles and luminaries are not being used.

Nonetheless, some members of Friends of the Serpent remain dejected and continue to speak out.

“In ancient times, the marking of seasons was very important to most cultures. The winter solstice marked the worst time of year. Darkness, sickness, frequent death, but the solstice activities gave our ancient brothers and sisters hope for the coming of warmer brighter days ahead,” wrote Friends of Serpent Mound member Tom Oyer on a recent Facebook post regarding the issue.

“I completely understand the need to protect heritage, however, would our ancestors have not embraced at least some progress?” asked Sherry Ahrmann Peterson on the same post. “Or understood that to some of us descendants that lighting the candle is to honor our ancestors? To take a moment in our extremely rushed world to honor our loved ones with light is an amazing and soul filling sensation.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently added Ohio’s Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks to its World Heritage list, a monumental achievement for the OHC. But just one year before UNESCO’s designation, the OHC removed its Native American and mound-builder artifact exhibit from the Ohio History Center. A move which in some ways mirrors canceling the “Lighting of the Serpent”.

Museums across the world, such as the OHC’s the Ohio History Center at the fairgrounds, have been going through a revolution of sorts. The repatriation of cultural artifacts to their original indigenous creators.

In 2022, the OHC said eight tribes with ancestral connection to ancient Ohio requested the removal of any artifact that may have been used in a burial or near a burial.

Alex Wesaw, director of the American Indian Relations division for OHC, told NPR at the time, we wouldn’t let someone dig up your “great, great, great grandma and keep them in an institution on a shelf in a cardboard box.”

The eight tribes cited the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, which requires museums that receive federal funding to return human remains and funerary objects. These artifacts may someday soon be buried somewhere in Ohio.

Indeed, the OHC is hammering down the law in ways which are perplexing and discouraging to fans of ancient Ohio history. For instance, the OHC in 2021 banned internationally best-selling author Graham Hancock from filming at Serpent Mound even though his theories on the mysteries of Serpent Mound have been contemplated and embraced by tens-of-millions.

“Many are amazed that such a restriction on freedom of expression,” wrote Hancock on Facebook, “could have happened in the United States.”

True, some New Agers in the past have co-opted Serpent Mound to their liking. One group buried “crystals” in the mound so to “reactivate” it, which caused tribes such as the Shawnee to convince the OHC to take action. But sources told the Free Press they are certain this never occurred during the “Lighting of the Serpent”.

“Friends of Serpent Mound has asked to have Native input,” wrote Walter Jefferson on the aforementioned Facebook post. “We have stood before OHC and stated they should be getting Native input. I am always asking Natives that attend our events, are we doing anything that we should change? And they appreciate what and how we do what we do. We are not plastic shamans, or fake Indians. We love the park and its history. We respect the ancient ones who built it. We ask Natives to come and show others how to respect the area and the land. Some came and others criticize. We ask those that criticize to come but they refuse to come and teach. Why?”