A new documentary about Native Americans in Alabama will prominently feature an ancient canal on the Fort Morgan peninsula that was first dug about 1,400 years ago.
Tommy Wier was on hand at the Jan. 18 meeting of the Alabama Archaeology Society meeting at the Gulf Shores Cultural Center to film a presentation by Dr. Greg Waselkov of the University of South Alabama on his studies on the canal. Native Americans hand-dug the canal from Oyster Bay to form a half-mile long connection with Little Lagoon in Gulf Shores. It was about 30 feet wide and six to eight feet deep.
Wier said the canal was used to gather food in Little Lagoon where there is evidence it was processed on the banks. There, volunteers discovered mounds of debris from fish, crabs and other marine life. It was also a major trade route.“It’s amazing to me [that volunteers] found so much evidence from other places,” Wier said. “[Native Americans] would travel down the Mississippi and cross Oyster Bay and Mobile Bay and trade with the Indians here. They’d leave artifacts that they brought from Minnesota and Missouri and Montana and all these other areas. It’s a fascinating story about these settlements.”
This is the first and oldest of the three eras of Native American history in Alabama Wier will explore in his documentary, “Another River to Cross — the Alabama Indian.”
“It’s going to be about a third of the film,” Wier said. “The first part will be about the Middle Woodland Mississippian period and the evidence of that in the mounds. That’s where the canal story comes in and where the evidence of Indians and Native Americans and Native Alabamians from the canal period.”
Wier said he toured and filmed some local, smaller mounds with Gulf Shores resident and local historian Harry King, who was instrumental in the discovery of the historic canal.
“They’re so prominent because it’s so flat down here,” he said.
The middle third of the documentary will look at a more volatile era of the Native American history of the state.
“The second part will be the Creek War era,” Wier said. “You have evidence in other historical places like Fort Toulouse, Fort Jackson, Horseshoe Bend, William Weatherford’s grave, Fort Mims. I’ve filmed in all these places.”
Part of that history, Wier said, was spurred by the building of a federal road from Georgia to Mobile which allowed more settlers to move into the area and unsettled the native population.
The final part will be about where the Native Americans are today and what ancestral practices they continue to observe. There will be screenings of the film around the state this fall before it is aired on Alabama Public Television.
“There are nine recognized tribes in the state and there are some other folks that are still practicing the dance and the performance of it,” Wier said.
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