State Senate considers bill to protect Indian burial sites
by Patrick McCreless
Staff Writer
Jan 22, 2010 | 2306 views |  0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A proposed law that would strengthen protection for American Indian burial sites, including recently discovered ancient remains in Oxford and a stone mound nearby, is moving through the state Senate.

State Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, introduced the bill for its first reading Jan. 12 in the Senate Committee of Government Affairs. Two days later, the bill received its required second reading and is awaiting another reading on the Senate floor.

"It's moving as fast as you can move," Mitchell said.

He said the bill has faced no opposition and he expects that trend to continue in the Senate.

Once the bill makes it through the Senate, it must go through the entire reading process again in the House. Once approved there, it will be sent to Gov. Bob Riley's office for signage into law.

Mitchell said he did not know how long the entire process might take.

"You don't ever know that," he said. "It depends on how receptive the whole body is."

If the bill passes, it would close a loophole in Alabama law, which currently allows for the removal of ancient Indian burial sites under certain circumstances. Under current Alabama law, anybody who desecrates graves and mutilates corpses is guilty of a Class C felony, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. However, the law sets a different standard for American Indian burial sites.

The law states that any person who maliciously desecrates an American Indian place of burial or funerary objects on property not owned by the person shall be guilty of a Class C felony. It's the "not owned" part of the law that has given property owners the final say on what happens to many Indian burial sites.

"The loophole is just something that needs to be addressed," said Greg Rhinehart, project reviewer for the Alabama Historical Commission. "Protection needs to be all the way around. It's just the right thing to do."

Mitchell said his bill is designed to protect ancient remains, such as the ones recently discovered on Davis Farm, where the city of Oxford is constructing a multi-million dollar sports complex.

"You could construe my bill to protect things like that," Mitchell said. "It has that effect."

According to the bill, any person who willfully or maliciously desecrates, injures, defaces, removes or destroys any tomb, monument, structure or container of human remains, burial mound, earthen or shell monument containing human skeletal remains or associated burial artifacts and invades or mutilates the human corpse or remains, is guilty of a Class C felony.

The Alabama Code of Law states a Class C felony is punishable by between one and 10 years in prison.

"We are definitely in support of this (bill)," said Robert Thrower, tribal historic preservation officer for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Atmore. "We have been in favor of this since committee."

Thrower said he was not sure yet if the bill would offer full protection for any and all American Indian sites, but it's a good start.

"Certainly it will provide better coverage and better protection," he said. "This is definitely a step in the right direction for us."
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State Senate considers bill to protect Indian burial sites by Patrick McCreless
Staff Writer

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