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Poarch Band Resumes Casino Construction on Sacred Hickory Ground

After a brief pause, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians has resumed construction on the controversial expansion of its $246 million Wind Creek Casino Wetumpka at Hickory Ground in Alabama—a historic Muscogee (Creek) Nation tribal town that includes a sacred burial ground of Muscogee ancestors. Poarch Creek announced in press release October 15 that it would stop construction of its new casino the next day “to show a measure of good faith from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians after a request from Principal Chief George Tiger.” In a new press release issued October 31, Poach says it has resumed “development plans” for a hotel and casino on the Hickory Ground land after meeting with the nation’s elected leaders in Oklahoma earlier in the week. “After careful consideration of the Muscogee Nation’s views, Poarch Creek believes the decision to move forward with its plans represents a fair and balanced approach to the development and preservation of the property,” the press release says. Hickory Ground, known as Oce Vpofa in the Muscogee language, was the last capitol of the National Council of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

The sacred place includes a ceremonial ground, a tribal burial ground and individual graves. The current day Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s ancestors lived and were buried at Hickory Ground before the tribe was forced from its Alabama homeland on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma as a result of U.S. President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830—America’s legalization of ethnic cleansing. The Hickory Ground land became part of the Poarch band’s reservation lands in 1984. At the time, the Poarch Band acknowledged Hickory Ground is the ancestral home of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and promised to protect it from development. “The Hickory Ground site will continue to enhance their understanding of their history, without excavation,” Poarch said when applying for the land. But when a 20-year ban on development expired, Poarch built a casino on the site. During excavation, the Poarch Band exhumed around 60 Muscogee graves.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation called construction at the site “deplorable” and insisted that their ancestors’ remains and associated funerary objects be reinterred in the same places that they were exhumed. Mekko George Thompson, Muscogee chief of 42 years, issued a statement in response to the Poarch Band’s announcement regarding the casino construction at Hickory Ground resuming. "From the beginning, it has been our stance that the remains should be put back where they were excavated. The ceremonial ground remains sacred, so it is not a proper place for a casino. Hickory Ground needs to be restored to nature—that's what we are striving for."

The long running bitter conflict between the two tribes over the disposition of the ancestors’ remains and the desecration of the sacred site now seems to have reached a standoff. “We are indeed saddened by the outcome of this recent trip to Oklahoma made by representatives of our tribal council,” Buford L. Rolin, Poarch Creek’s tribal chairman, said in the latest press release. “Since 2006, we have reached out to the Muscogee Nation with the hope that they would be open to understanding the facts about the 21st century conditions of what was once Hickory Ground Town and would recognize that our development in Wetumpka does not alter that. Unfortunately we have reached an impasse.” Poarch Tribal Council member Arthur Mothershed said in the release that the band has been “extremely careful to plan a development that is culturally sensitive while ensuring the economic well-being of our tribal members, our community, and our state. It is a balanced, reasonable approach for using land that we own, which has been met with increased opposition from some in Oklahoma.” Some of the “increased opposition” comes from Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes (ITCFCT), which on October 12, four days after the tribal leaders met, voted unanimously on a resolution supporting the efforts “of the lineal descendants of Ocevpofv (Hickory Ground) Ceremonial Ground/Tribal Town to halt the desecration and all future desecrations of Ocevpofv (Hickory Ground) Ceremonial Ground/Tribal Town located in Wetumpka, Alabama, as should be afforded protection under Federal Laws.”

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The ITCFCT represents the united tribal governments of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole Nations and more than 750,000 blood descendants of aboriginal peoples from the southeastern United States, the resolution said. The council’s sharply-worded resolution said the Poarch Band, “a recently federally recognized tribe, is currently occupying” and has desecrated the historic sacred site of the original Hickory Ground community, including the excavation of seven Mekkos (chiefs), and is in violation of several federal laws. Mothershed complained that, “Now, we are being faced with demands to remove ancestral remains that have already been reinterred. We can ensure that no more remains will be excavated. It has been almost eight years since any remains have been unearthed. We cannot change the fact that remains were found and removed. Those remains are now reinterred and we cannot support disturbing those remains again.” Although it has been eight years since the ancestors’ remains were exhumed, it has only been seven months since April, which was when the Poarch Band reinterred the remains after keeping them in storage.

Muscogee Nation Principal Chief George Tiger told ICTMN that both the excavations and the reburials were “a violation of the dignity” of the Muscogee ancestors. “The Nation has consistently asserted that the remains must be reinterred with the funerary objects at the place where they were exhumed with respect for our tradition. Instead, the Poarch Band unilaterally decided to rebury our ancestors outside the footprint of their casino project, without the funerary objects or ceremony,” Tiger said. “Furthermore, to transform a place of deep historical and cultural significance into an entertainment venue for the general public is inappropriate and destructive to that sacred place. In addition, ‘sacred sites’ aren’t just the immediate burial cavity, it’s all areas surrounding the location of the Tribal Town, ceremonial squares, medicine houses, etc.” The Muscogee Nation has warned it would sue the Poarch Band over the desecration of Hickory Ground, but the Nation’s attorney Brendan Ludwick declined to comment on whether a lawsuit would be filed immediately. Related articles: The Battle for Hickory GroundPoarch Band Stops Controversial Casino Expansion on Hickory Ground Sacred Site