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Octagon mound needs to be made a public site

Posted to the Friends of the AIM support group

"If this is private land and its value as a golf course outweighs its value as a sacred site and an archaeological marvel, that needs to change."


The verdict is in: The court found Barbara Crandell guilty of criminal trespassing.

Her crime? She went to the Octagon mound to pray. She has done that repeatedly over 20 years. I attended monthly meetings of the Friends of the Mounds over the last two years in which she reported doing so. Executives from the Ohio Historical Society, which owns the site, also attended. Not once did they tell her to stop going there to pray.

Why did she go to the Octagon when there are so many other places to go? Why not go to a church? Barbara is Cherokee. She believes the people archaeologists call "Hopewell" were the Cherokee. She believes her ancestors prayed at the Octagon and were buried there. Archaeologists disagree, but archaeologists have doubts about the religious assertions of most groups, including Christians. And most archaeologists agree that this was a sacred site built by ancestors of Native Americans.

But, of course, the site is also a golf course. Our county has many golf courses, but this is the only one built upon a site considered sacred, and this is the only one that is private.

Moundbuilders Country Club has a lease on the land. Barbara's verdict was based on the assertion that the club's lease makes this a private site. Never mind its archaeological or spiritual significance, or Barbara's right to religious freedom. Apparently, a lease trumps all that. Barbara Crandell has no right to go there to pray; members have the right to go there to play golf.

The verdict is in, and something is wrong.

The Octagon ought to be cherished for both its sacred character and its archaeological importance -- and ought to be public. Barbara's attorney wanted to argue these points. He wanted to introduce documents such as the deed and the lease, both of which address the public nature of the site. He wanted to call witnesses to testify to its religious and archaeological significance. He wanted to invoke religious freedom.

He was forbidden to present those documents, call those witnesses or make those arguments in the trial. The prosecutor told the jury that this is private land, and Barbara was interfering with members of a private club.

If this is private land and its value as a golf course outweighs its value as a sacred site and an archaeological marvel, that needs to change.

The site is too important to be private. These are not just any mounds. That statement is true even apart from its sacred character, on archaeological grounds. An international team of archaeologists led by Christopher Scarre of Cambridge University in England has included Newark's Octagon Earthworks on a list of 70 wonders of the ancient world. Only three sites in all of North America made the list. The other two, of course, are public.

The Octagon is considered world-class by archaeologists and sacred by Native Americans. Nothing else in all of Central Ohio is nearly so significant.

We have hidden it under a bushel or, rather, a golf course. That needs to change. The Octagon needs to become a public site where families can picnic, classes of school children can come routinely, Native Americans can celebrate their heritage, visitors from Ohio and other states and nations can visit, and anyone who wants to pray, can do so.

Dr. Richard Shiels is a professor of history at the Newark Campus of The Ohio State University/Central Ohio Technical College.

Richard Shiels

Advocate reader columnist

Originally published Wednesday, November 13, 2002

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