About 50 Native Americans, Mennonites and opponents of a natural gas pipeline raised their voices in song Saturday afternoon at a gathering in Manor Township.

"Peace before us, peace behind us," they sang. "Peace under our feet."

The hymn was part of a 24-hour "mourning ceremony" led by Chief Carlos Whitewolf of the Northern Arawak Tribal Nation.

It took place at Tony and Judy Haverstick's historic farmstead on Highville Road.

Across the road, on property owned by farmer Donny Witmer, is a hill Whitewolf and the others call "Chief's Hill."

They say there's evidence the hill was a burial mound. When Witmer recently cleared some trees from it, they believe he was disturbing sacred ground.

Local historians say the property is part of Conestoga Indian Town, land deeded to Native Americans by William Penn in the early 1700s.

Saturday's ceremony was being offered as a sign of respect and to give peace to the spirits of the dead, Whitewolf said.

"This is not a protest," Whitewolf said. "We recognize that Farmer Witmer can do what he wants on his land."

Whitewolf said he hopes Witmer gives up his plans to farm on the hill.

"Indians don't farm on burial grounds," he said.

Witmer disputed the notion the hill is a burial ground in an LNP story earlier this month, and he hasn't changed his views.

"They're making stories up," he said Saturday. "I think they're way off."

He's 62, and his family has been here for generations, yet he never heard the name "Chief's Hill" or any suggestion of burials there until recently, he said. 

Much of Saturday was taken up with preparations for activities that would get under way in the evening and overnight.

That's the right time to seek contact with the spirit world, said Roy Whitehorse, a member of the Dakota tribe, who oversaw construction of a sweat lodge.

The event was expected to wrap up around 10 a.m. Sunday. 

Mid-afternoon Saturday, about two dozen people arrived from the Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster.

Everyone gathered to sing. Beforehand, Lead Pastor Susan Gascho-Cooke presented Whitewolf a knitted prayer shawl.

"We want to express to you our deep sadness ... and stand in solidarity with you and your community," Gascho-Cooke said.

The hill could be seen across the road, its crest black with freshly overturned dirt.

Witmer has said it's too rocky to be a burial ground. He concedes it's not the best soil for farming, "but it's good enough, and it's ground I own," he said.

He said he's never found artifacts or bones there. 

Members of the Conestoga Community Group, an anti-pipeline organization, said they were there to support the Native Americans and, as member Nancy Jeffries said, "to make a stand against desecration."

Native burial sites need stronger legal protection, said Mary Ann Robins, president of Circle Legacy Center, a Native American nonprofit that meets at Community Mennonite. 

The original route for the pipeline went through Conestoga Indian Town, but the proposal now calls for it to be built farther west.

Whitewolf said he thinks Witmer bulldozed the hill out of "spite," because "we fought the pipeline."

Not true, Witmer said. All he wants is to plant more corn and hay, he insisted.

He's not going to bulldoze any more, he said.

"I'm basically done, other than picking up sticks," he said.