Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Suburban Sprawl Spurs Fights over Sacred Indian Sites ; across the US, Native Americans Try to Protect Sites like Toltec Mounds in Arkansas

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Suburban Sprawl Spurs Fights over Sacred Indian Sites ; across the US, Native Americans Try to Protect Sites like Toltec Mounds in Arkansas

Article excerpt

Toltec Mounds stands as silent a reminder of more simple days, when time was told by the sun instead of digital gadgets.

The archaeological site - one of the largest and most unusual in the South - was used by the Plum Bayou Indians as religious and cultural grounds from AD 700 to 1050. The mounds are especially popular during the summer and winter solstices, when people visit to see the seasons tell time by the way the sun rises and sets.

But progress from nearby Little Rock may infringe on the mounds. GenPower LLC, a private energy company based in Needham, Mass., plans to build a $350 million power plant about 1-1/2 miles away. Local enthusiasts see it providing jobs and much-needed electricity for the impoverished Lower Mississippi Valley. But preservationists worry about despoiling an ancient treasure.

"You can't just build a power plant in front of a site that needs the sun to make it historically significant," says Jim Walsmith, executive director of the Preservation Alliance of Arkansas. "A power plant will lose the cultural integrity and sacredness of this place."

As suburban sprawl encroaches on America's green spaces, a growing number of sacred native-American sites are under threat from housing developments and industrial plants. From Florida to Ohio to Arkansas, native-American groups are fighting battles with state and federal governments to protect places, including burial sites, where ancestors worshiped.

Native Americans have recently protested:

* A Chicago-based company's plans for an open-pit clay mine and cat-litter plant in a community north of Reno, Nev.

* A luxury townhouse development in White Bear Lake, Minn., that would partially surround a mound thought to house remains from 700 years ago.

* The construction of a casino in Black Hills, N.D., that threatens an area prominent in native-American history.

"It is the official opinion of any native American that if you disturb a burial site, the soul or spirit ... will forever be at unrest," says Fred Dayhoff, a consultant for a Florida tribe. …

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