The mound, believed to be 1,000 years old and of American Indian construction, has been the subject of controversy since a contractor hired by the city's Commercial Development Authority began tearing away the hill underneath it. The initial plan was to use it as fill dirt for a Sam's Club. Oxford Mayor Leon Smith now says the contractor is not touching the mound. A private land owner says the contractor is getting dirt from him.
Sunday's event got off to a bumpy start. The American Indians and other people who showed up for the ceremony gathered behind the Home Depot and began to set up tents to shelter a drum. Employees at the Home Depot came and told them they could not set up tents on the store's property.
The group relocated a few feet over to a bridge connecting the shopping center to the hill, the tents surrounded by a large puddle of water. About 80 people came, according to event organizer Mark Davis, less than the 150 to 300 people that were expected. Several people drove up to the ceremony and watched from their cars. Among the apparent no-shows was Lou White Eagle, a Cheyenne priest and elder, invited to lead the ceremony.
Nearby, Oxford Police Chief Bill Partridge watched the events from a white car. He said he was there to make sure no one got hurt.
Davis, a Weaver resident who says he is of Cherokee and Tuscarora descent, originally planned to go on top of the mound to re-consecrate it. He later changed his plans after he was advised against it by the police department. There was also a plan to visit nearby Davis Farm, believed to be associated with the mound, but that was scrapped as well.
While the group waited for White Eagle, they played the drum, sang and burned white sage. Ruth Davis, Mark's wife, passed out small "prayer ties" with tiny bags of tobacco. The people who attended tied them to a gate separating them from the hill they'd come to bless.
"It's so our ancestors know we're here and praying for them," Ruth Davis said. "We're basically apologizing for the destruction of the site."
Area Presbyterian minister Monty Clendenin said a prayer and several people spoke in White Eagle's absence. Harry Holstein, Jacksonville State University professor of archeology and anthropology, fielded several questions about the site from the people gathered around the tents.
"It's been a dreary day but I think it made a statement," Holstein said of the event.
Mark Davis said White Eagle's absence was "somewhat of a setback," because he has expertise in this type of ceremony. He hopes the city will allow him to visit the hill later on and perform the ceremony. Clendenin felt like it was a solid turnout under the circumstances.
"This is probably a larger turnout than we've had, even (with) inclement weather," Clendenin said.