Muscogee (Creek) Nation Demands Halt to Wetumpka Casino Construction on Sacred Ceremonial Ground

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The Muscogee (Creek) Nation demands a halt to construction of the Wind Creek Wetumpka expansion project on the sacred Hickory Ground.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is a federally-recognized Indian tribe based near Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is committed to protecting the burial and ceremonial grounds of our ancestors.

Last month, the Alabama Press-Register reported that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians started construction for a 20-story, $246 million expansion of their Wetumpka casino. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation opposes the expansion, because it claims the construction will disturb burials of its ancestors.

“The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is committed to protecting the burial and ceremonial grounds of our ancestors,” said Principal Chief George Tiger.

Hickory Ground, known as “Oce Vpofa” in the Muscogee language, was the last capital of the National Council of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, prior to forced removal to Indian Territory in the 1830s. Hickory Ground was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. In 1984, the federal government officially recognized the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, and Hickory Ground was taken into trust for the Poarch Band.

When the Poarch Band began to develop a casino at Hickory Ground in 2001, the City of Wetumpka filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court Middle District of Alabama alleging in relevant part, “…Poarch Band initiated ground clearing and excavating activities at the Hickory Ground for the purpose of facilitating the construction of a video bingo facility. Such construction has and will likely continue to… damage cultural items and remains located at the Hickory Ground… and prevent Native Americans of Creek descent… from accessing the site in its appropriate historical context.” (Civ. No. 01-A-1146-N). The lawsuit was dismissed before a response was filed in the case.

That same year, then-Congressman Bob Riley introduced House Bill H.R. 240 to prevent Poarch Band from conducting gaming activity at Hickory Ground. H.R. 240 stated in its findings: “(1) Hickory Ground is of major historical significance to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation; (2) Hickory Ground was conveyed to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians specifically to prevent desecration of the property; (3) The original application by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians for funds to acquire Hickory Ground clearly states that ‘Acquisition will prevent development on the property’; (4) The Poarch Band of Creek Indians agreed to the covenant placed upon the title of Hickory Ground which specifically prohibits all development of the property which would threaten or damage the site as an archeological resource; and (5) The development of a gaming operation will adversely affect the Hickory Ground archeological site.” H.R. 240 failed to pass into law and the Poarch Band proceeded to develop their existing Wetumpka casino.

“Construction was stopped briefly when human remains were discovered, but only long enough to move them to an undisclosed location,” wrote American Indian rights advocate Suzan Harjo in her article “Fire Takes the Vulnerable Ones” for Indian Country Today.

“The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is concerned that new construction at Hickory Ground may cause further disturbance to the sacred site,” says attorney Brendan Ludwick, who represents the Muscogee (Creek) Peoples in Oklahoma opposing the development. “A tribal burial ground should be afforded the same level of dignity and legal protection as a non-Indian cemetery.”

Mekko George Thompson, who has served as a traditional Chief of the Oce Vpofa Muscogee Creeks in Oklahoma for 42 years, said, “Our ancestors and their burial objects, and our cultural items need to be returned where they were taken from, and the whole place needs to go back to nature.”

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is a federally recognized Indian tribe based near Okmulgee Oklahoma. The Oce Vpofa Muscogee (Creeks) were forcibly removed from their historic, ceremonial and ancestral Hickory Ground near Wetumpka, Alabama, but retain their strong ties and obligations to their homelands and ancestors, along with their traditions and language. For more information or to donate to save Hickory Ground, please visit http://www.SaveHickoryGround.org.

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Brendan Ludwick

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