• 84°

Muskogee Creek Indians file lawsuit

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation filed a federal lawsuit June 5, demanding that the Poarch Creek Indians return the sacred site known as Hickory Ground to its condition prior to the construction of the casino in Wetumpka, according to a release.

“The remains and cultural objects must be put back at peace in their original resting ground,” said Mekko George Thompson, who has served as the traditional chief of the Hickory Ground Tribal Town for more than 40 years. “Our ancestors’ remains have been wrenched from their final resting places and removed. We’re not opposed to development, but a burial ground is no place for a casino.”

PCI acquired the Hickory Ground site in 1980 on a promise to preserve the site, and the U.S. District Court suit said that the subsequent desecration and construction were executed unlawfully by Poarch and numerous federal defendants, according to a release.

The Muscogee Nation is demanding restoration of the original site, and Thompson is seeking monetary damages for the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

“We entrusted the Poarch Band to maintain that ground in perpetuity, because that is what they promised,” said Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd. “Not only did they not do that, they desecrated an extremely important cultural, historical and archaeological site, unearthing remains and sacred objects. They’ve shown no remorse.”

The suit said the Poarch Band and the federal government violated federal laws including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Indian Reorganization Act, among others.

The action expands upon a suit first filed in 2012 that was paused while both sides explored a settlement.

Located in Wetumpka, the 33-acre Hickory Ground is a historical and spiritual site to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The sacred site was the tribe’s capital before the Muscogee (Creek) were forcibly relocated in the 1830s to what is now Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears. Hickory Ground is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the Muscogee (Creek) religion, it is considered sacrilegious to disturb the bodies of ancestors or desecrate ceremonial grounds. Restoration of the site is critical to protect ancestral graves from ongoing desecration. Hickory Ground is a place where Muscogee (Creek) cultural ceremonies were practiced for more than a 1,000 years. Hundreds of their ancestors were buried there.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is one of the largest tribes in the United States, with more than 87,000 tribal citizens.

“It deeply saddens us, as extended family to the Muscogee Nation, that they have taken this unwarranted action against us,” PCI Tribal Chair and CEO Stephanie Bryan said. “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.”