Group petitions Oxford over American Indian site
by Dan Whisenhunt
Staff Writer
Jul 07, 2009 | 8053 views |  26 comments | 86 86 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A group protests the destruction of a stone mound that is believed to be an American Indian burial ground behind the Oxford Exchange at Oxford City Hall Monday night. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
A group protests the destruction of a stone mound that is believed to be an American Indian burial ground behind the Oxford Exchange at Oxford City Hall Monday night. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
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At the Oxford City Hall on Monday Tony Castaneda holds a sign that reads 'Leon What'cha Smoking?' during a protest of the destruction of a stone mound that is believed to be an American Indian burial ground. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
At the Oxford City Hall on Monday Tony Castaneda holds a sign that reads 'Leon What'cha Smoking?' during a protest of the destruction of a stone mound that is believed to be an American Indian burial ground. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
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OXFORD — The city is still hearing from American Indians and others who oppose the city's destruction of a native stone mound.

But city officials ignored another protest Monday over the city's decision to destroy the mound atop a hill behind the Oxford Exchange shopping center.

Two American Indians on Monday presented Mayor Leon Smith with a petition containing more than 600 signatures of people opposed to the destruction of the site.

Tony Castaneda, of Anniston, and Sharon Jackson, of Fruithurst, who both claim to be American Indian elders, gave Smith the petition.

They followed up with a protest at City Hall at 7 p.m. where they collected more signatures.

Smith became agitated when the two arrived at City Hall with the petition Monday afternoon. They were observed by a reporter and a camerawoman from The Star. Smith demanded the journalists take their camera and leave. The journalists refused and Smith turned away. He took the petition and went back inside City Hall.

According to the Alabama Historical Commission's deputy state historic preservation officer, the mound at the center of the dispute is the largest of its kind in the state. The site is at least 1,500 years old and was constructed during what was known as the Woodland era. The city, through its Commercial Development Authority (CDA), has paid to have part of the hill taken down and used as fill for a Sam's Club under construction near the shopping center. The remainder of the hill is planned for more commercial businesses.

There is some dispute about the importance of the site. Harry Holstein, a professor of archeology and anthropology at Jacksonville State University has said it could contain human remains. Smith and city project manager Fred Denney say it was used to send smoke signals.

Preservation officials and the protesters have said that's unlikely.

Denney and the city would not give a reporter and photographer from The Star permission to climb to the top of the hill to take pictures, though the hill is owned by the CDA which is an arm of the city. A woman who answered the phone in Smith's office said no one could go on the hill for "safety and security reasons," but declined to specify what safety and security issues were present. She declined further comment.

Denney also said Monday he will stop talking about the hill, though he's spoken about it to a reporter before.

"I got no comment on that mountain," Denney said.

Glen Wilkins, a spokesman for Wal-Mart which owns the Sam's Club, said no one has contacted the company regarding the destruction of the mound for the Sam's Club. That conflicts with the accounts of protesters who said they have contacted the company.

A protester forwarded an e-mailed response he received from Wal-Mart about the mound to The Star Monday.

"It's because of people like you that Wal-Mart works hard to save people money so they can live better," the e-mail reads in part. "Because of your initiative, a copy of your message will be forwarded to our Real Estate Division for consideration."

Wilkins referred all questions about the mound to the city.

The protest Monday afternoon drew less of a crowd than a protest at the Oxford Exchange on June 26. More than 50 people showed up then, while more than a dozen were present Monday. Several people driving on U.S. 78 honked and waved in support, while a few stopped to sign the petition. Protesters say they got the bulk of their names at Oxford's Freedom Festival on Saturday.

The protesters dressed in colorful native garb and had signs that were equally as colorful, playing off Smith and Denney's claims that the mound was used for smoke signals.

One depicted a drawing of Smith smoking a cone-shaped "cigarette" under the caption: "Leon: What'cha Smoking?"

Another sign held by Teresa Reece of Anniston said, "Send Mayor Smith and Fred Denney a Smoke Signal: We Were Here First."

Castaneda said the lower turnout didn't disappoint him.

"I consider this a success, a test to see if we were stopped by the police," he said. "We had no problems. An unmarked police car honked his horn."

Castaneda said protesters would continue bringing attention to the site.

"Right now we're trying to settle this peacefully," he said.
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Group petitions Oxford over American Indian site by Dan Whisenhunt
Staff Writer

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