Moving a Mountain in Alabama: Sacred Indian Site Under Siege

By Michelle Chen Aug 25, 2009

After surviving centuries of colonial invasion, a community of American Indians in Alabama weren’t about to back down when they discovered the latest trespasser on their territory: Sam’s Club. An ancient stone mound in what is today known as Oxford, Alabama, stands as a testament to the resilience of native societies despite generations of cultural genocide. The local native community contends that it is a crucial sacred site that could hold human remains. Facing South and the Anniston Star report that according to archeological evidence, the hill a historical vestige of the Woodland and Mississippian indigenous cultures, possibly dating back 1,500 years. But the city’s Commercial Development Authority decided the mound would be put to better use as dirt fill to lay the foundation of a brand new Sam’s Club store. According to the Star, Oxford Mayor Leon Smith and City Project Manager Fred Denney claimed the mound was just “used to send smoke signals.” The city stated earlier this summer that it planned to destroy about one third of the mound to build the Sam’s Club and eventually occupy the rest of the formation with more “development.” City Council President Chris Spurlin insisted the Authority was "trying to do what’s best for the city. I don’t see no reason in buying fill dirt from someone when we have that hill available." In response to the plans, a small group of activists representing the native community presented a petition to authorities and protested at the city hall in July. One protester’s sign declared the opposition’s claim: "Send Mayor Smith and Fred Denney a Smoke Signal: We Were Here First." Following the public outcry in the community and online, the city now appears to have backed away from its earlier plans (with some dubious denials). Last week, a local landowner told the Star that he had agreed to supply the dirt for the project. Meanwhile, mother nature is showing other signs of resistance to the developers: city authorities recently had to allocate extra funds to repair a large sinkhole discovered on the site. The future of the ancient mound is still hazy, but a few weeks ago, according to one news report, for a moment, the wisdom of the ancients emerged victorious. One morning, residents discovered that the nearby Leon Smith Parkway had been reclaimed with a new handwritten sign: “Indian Mound Parkway.” Images: Anniston Star