Alleged Mistreatment of Muscogee Sacred Site Leads To More Alabama Litigation Over Wind Creek Casino
Posted on: June 7, 2019, 07:45h.
Last updated on: June 10, 2019, 12:52h.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, the Muscogee demand the Poarch return the property known as Hickory Ground to its original condition. The tribe also needs to properly bury desecrated remains of Muscogee ancestors and important cultural objects.
The court action was initially filed in 2012. An attempt was made to reach a settlement — but so far has been unsuccessful.
Hickory Ground is made up of 33 acres and was the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s capital. The tribe was forced to relocate in the 1830s to land that is now included in the state of Oklahoma.
In a statement released to Casino.org, Lauren King, an attorney at Foster Pepper, who is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) tribe and is representing the tribe in the lawsuit, said that the “Poarch exhumed over 57 human remains of [the] plaintiffs’ ancestors and removed thousands of artifacts in a massive excavation that concluded in 2011.”
In 2012, [the] Poarch unilaterally reburied many of these remains away from their original resting places, using invented ceremonies that disrespected the dead and left the spirits of [the] plaintiffs’ ancestors in perpetual unrest. Many remains and artifacts have never been reburied.”
The Poarch were able to acquire Hickory Ground by promising “it would always preserve and protect the site,” King said. Instead, the Poarch “removed over 57 bodies of our ancestors, and thousands of our cultural artifacts, from the sacred place to bulldoze it for construction of Poarch’s second casino.”
The $246 million Wind Creek Casino and Hotel was opened some five years ago. The Poarch Band also have gaming venues in Atmore and Montgomery.
Muscogee (Creek) cultural ceremonies were practiced for more than a thousand years on the Hickory Ground property. Hundreds of tribal members are buried there.
The lawsuit further claims the Poarch and the federal government violated federal laws. These include: the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Indian Reorganization Act.
Poarch Band Deny Allegations
But the Poarch Band of Creek Indians counter they have tried to preserve remains in an appropriate way.
“It deeply saddens us, as extended family to the Muscogee Nation, that they have taken this unwarranted action against us,” Stephanie A. Bryan, tribal chair and CEO, Poarch Band of Creek Indians, said in a statement released to Casino.org.
“We have attempted to preserve historical remains in a suitable manner. In that effort, we have had numerous conversations with the Muscogee Nation and Hickory Ground Town in an attempt to balance the historical interests with the current use of the property. We wish that as family we could have reached a mutual understanding, and we continue to hope that we can move forward together,” the statement adds.
Auburn University is a defendant in the lawsuit, too, according to AL.com. Auburn archaeologists excavated the tribal site and the university allegedly continues to hold onto Muscogee artifacts.
Auburn University released a statement that said, “The lawsuit does not allege any wrongdoing by Auburn University. Auburn will follow any court decisions regarding artifacts discovered during archaeological work at Hickory Ground, which was conducted under a contract with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians to provide scientific expertise. All human remains excavated by Auburn University were reinterred at Hickory Ground.”
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation say it has more than 87,000 tribal citizens. The tribe claims the Poarch Band has over 3,000 members.
The Poarch claim “to be composed of Creek descendants who stayed in Alabama, assimilating with non-Indians during the forced removal of southeastern tribes… The group began petitioning for federal recognition at a time when talk of Indian gaming was beginning, and received it in 1984,” according to a Muscogee statement.
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