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Advocates call on DeKalb County to remove the “Indian War” cannon ahead of vote

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Advocates call on DeKalb County to remove the “Indian War” cannon ahead of vote

Protestors carry a red cloth signifying The Trail of Tears to the DeKalb County Government Administration Building calling on DeKalb County Commissioners to remove the ‘Indian War’ cannon from the Decatur Square during a rally held by Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights on Indigenous Peoples' Day, Oct. 11. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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Decatur, GA – Dozens rallied in Decatur on Monday, Oct. 11, to demand DeKalb County to remove the “Indian War” cannon located outside the DeKalb County History Center.

Protesters gathered on Indigenous Peoples’ Day to call on the county Board of Commissioners to vote to remove the cannon during their Oct. 12 meeting.

The cannon was placed in Decatur in 1906 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and memorializes the removal of Indigenous people following the Creek Indian War of 1836.

While security officers look on, Kayla Evans from the Student Coalition for Equity, on right, with Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights Co-Chair Fonta High, places a basket of 1,900 index cards on the floor of the Maloof Building lobby with the names of people who signed the petition to remove the ‘Indian War’ cannon from the Decatur Square. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Members of the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights and the community marched from the cannon to the DeKalb County offices on Commerce Drive chanting “too many people died, no more symbols of genocide,” and “Indigenous and Africans on this land, symbols of hate cannot stand.”

On Sept. 28, DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry introduced a resolution to remove the cannon. The resolution was deferred for two weeks to be considered by the planning, economic development & community services committee before coming to the Board of Commissioners for a decision.

The resolution is on the agenda for the Board of Commissioner’s upcoming meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 12. The board will meet at 9 a.m. via Zoom.

“There was a time when the guns were against us,” John Winterhawk, an elder member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, told Decaturish. “We were shooting arrows at people who were shooting bullets and cannons. It didn’t take much to blow us away. It didn’t take much to put us on the Trail of Tears.”

Protesters make their way to the Dekalb County Government Administration Building – Manuel J. Maloof Center calling on DeKalb County Commissioners to remove the ‘Indian War’ cannon from the Decatur Square during a rally held by Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Oct. 11. Photo by Dean Hesse.

During the protest, Muscogee Creek Nation elder member John Winterhawk said that for those who wonder why more Indigenous people don’t live in the area, it’s “because of a thing like a cannon that’s sitting on the lawn pointing out anybody that disturbs the peace here. But we’re not disturbing your peace, we’re disturbing our own peace. We’d rather it be a welcome sign rather than a cannon that would take our heads off.”

The cannon doesn’t belong on the Square, Winterhawk told Decaturish. Adding that it’s disturbing to him as he sees it often.

“We’re tired of cannons being poked at us all the time,” Winterhawk said. “There’s no reason for that cannon to be there. Even if one simple, little child said, ‘take this cannon away,’ these commissioners should listen to that and do that.”

If the cannon is removed, Winterhawk said it would mean the world is changing and people are starting to pay attention.

“People are starting to see why it is that other people want to have stuff taken away like that and what it means to them,” Winterhawk said. “It means that peace is starting to be about. It means we’re starting to think about that peace also.”

Protesters raise a fist as they stop in the crosswalk of Commerce Drive while marching to the Dekalb County Government Administration Building – Manuel J. Maloof Center during a rally held by Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Oct. 11, calling on DeKalb County Commissioners to remove the ‘Indian War’ cannon from the Decatur Square. Photo by Dean Hesse.

The marchers aimed to recreate the Trail of Tears using a red cloth that represented the blood that was lost, the blood that was shed on the land that is known as Decatur, High said. Once at the Maloof building, the protesters presented a basket of 1,900 index cards that bear the names of those who signed the petition to remove the cannon.

The protesters called on county leaders to immediately remove the genocide cannon that has stood for 115 years.This will be the third Indigenous Peoples’ Day event organized by Beacon Hill, according to a press release.

“The land that we’re standing on belongs to the Muscogee Creek Nation,” Beacon Hill Co-founder Fonta High said.

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Oct. 11, protesters carry a red cloth signifying The Trail of Tears to the Dekalb County Government Administration Building – Manuel J. Maloof Center during a rally held by Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights calling on DeKalb County Commissioners to remove the ‘Indian War’ cannon from the Decatur Square. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Advocating for the removal of the cannon has been important to Beacon Hill as the stories of African people are intertwined with the stories of Indigenous people.

“As we recognize the history of the country and the plantation economy that brought many people wealth, we know it came at a cost,” High said. “It came at the cost of enslaved Africans that were forced to work this land and also Indigenous peoples from whom this land was stolen.”

For more than a year since the removal of the Lost Cause monument on the eve of Juneteenth 2020, Beacon Hill and its Decolonize Decatur Committee has turned its attention to the removal of this other symbol of hate and white supremacy in the community.

The Creek Indian War of 1836 was a consequence of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which President Andrew Jackson strongly supported, according to a report from the National Park Service. In 1821, Georgia forced the sale of half of the remaining Creek land, including the land that is now the city of Decatur, which was taken by white settlers in a land lottery.

The cannon’s placement was intended to send a message, activists said.

Muscogee Creek Nation elder John Winterhawk walks with protesters during a rally held by Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Oct. 11, calling on DeKalb County Commissioners to remove the ‘Indian War’ cannon from the Decatur Square. Photo by Dean Hesse.

“They wanted to have some symbol that would show white supremacists that they were welcome in Decatur,” said Sara Patenaude, member of the Coalition for Diverse Decatur and DeKalb. “Until we remove all of the symbols, all of the practices, all of the systems of white supremacy, we are not a welcoming community. We are not a diverse community.”

She added that it starts with the county commissioners deciding to remove the cannon on Tuesday and having it removed that night.

“I want to see a crane out there. I want to get a truck out there tomorrow night,” Patenaude said. “One hundred and fifteen years is too long. We are done. We want it down now.”

The UDC also installed a confederate monument that was removed in 2020. The Decatur City Commission in December adopted a resolution in support of the cannon’s removal.

The cannon itself is not the issue, the Rev. Karen Bryant Shipp said during the protest. The real issue is the ideology of white supremacy that holds the cannon in place.

“The cannon’s only purpose in being created was to kill, to threaten death, to serve as an instrument of war,” Bryant Shipp said. “It was used against the Muscogee people to drive them from the land that had been their home for centuries.”

Bryant Shipp added that the cannon’s only purpose now is to be a relic that continues to proclaim an ideology that justifies and supports the history of slavery and genocide that built the founding of the U.S.

“The cannon must be removed for whatever reason the commissioners can use to justify relocation to themselves and to the state of Georgia,” she said.

Protesters carry a red cloth signifying The Trail of Tears to the Dekalb County Government Administration Building – Manuel J. Maloof Center calling on DeKalb County Commissioners to remove the ‘Indian War’ cannon from the Decatur Square during a rally held by Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Oct. 11. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This year was the first year the country recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a national holiday rather than Columbus Day. Decatur High School student Kayla Evans this should have happened a long time ago.

“Today we honor the first inhabitants of this land, what we now call the United States of America, but ourselves, along with other students, grew up learning that Christopher Columbus was the first person to discover America, which is far from the truth,” Evans said. “It wasn’t until outside of the classroom that I learned of the horrible [acts] committed against the Native Americans.”

When Evans moved to Decatur, she quickly noticed that the city values community and prides itself as being a city that leads by example.

“DeKalb County Commissioners are in a position to demonstrate that they are in fact a city that leads by example,” Evans said.

Protesters prepare to carry a red cloth signifying The Trail of Tears to the Dekalb County Government Administration Building – Manuel J. Maloof Center during a rally calling on DeKalb County Commissioners to remove the ‘Indian War’ cannon from the Decatur Square held by Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Oct. 11. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Historian Sara Patenaude of Coalition for Diverse Decatur/DeKalb speaks to protesters assembled outside the Dekalb County Government Administration Building – Manuel J. Maloof Center during a rally held by Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Oct. 11, calling on DeKalb County Commissioners to remove the ‘Indian War’ cannon from the Decatur Square. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Susan Camp and her daughter Caroline listen to a speaker outside the Dekalb County Government Administration Building – Manuel J. Maloof Center during a rally held by Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Oct. 11, calling on DeKalb County Commissioners to remove the ‘Indian War’ cannon from the Decatur Square. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights Co-Chair Fonta High leads protesters during a rally on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Oct. 11, calling on DeKalb County Commissioners to remove the ‘Indian War’ cannon from the Decatur Square. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Protesters carry a red cloth signifying The Trail of Tears during a rally held by Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Oct. 11, calling on DeKalb County Commissioners to remove the ‘Indian War’ cannon from the Decatur Square. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Siblings Ben and Adam Berardi hold signs in front of the ‘Indian War’ cannon during a rally held by Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Oct. 11, calling on DeKalb County Commissioners to remove the cannon from the Decatur Square. Photo by Dean Hesse.

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