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For Immediate Release
June 5, 2019
Muscogee (Creek) Nation sues to restore burial site desecrated by Poarch casino
Montgomery, Ala.—The Muscogee (Creek) Nation today filed a federal lawsuit demanding the Poarch Band of Creek Indians immediately return the sacred site known as Hickory Ground to its condition prior to the construction of the Wetumpka, Ala. casino resort, which desecrated the human remains of scores of Muscogee (Creek) ancestors.
“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 four decades. “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.”
The Poarch Band acquired the Hickory Ground site in 1980 by promising to preserve the site, and the U.S. District Court suit asserts that the subsequent desecration and construction were executed unlawfully by Poarch and numerous federal defendants.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is demanding restoration of the original site, and Mekko 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 maintains 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, Ala., the 33-acre Hickory Ground is one of the most historically and spiritually important sites 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.
Hickory Ground was also critical to the very formation of the United States. When international nations questioned the sovereignty of the newly born United States, President George Washington lent legitimacy to the nascent country by signing treaties with Indian Nations, whose sovereignty had previously been affirmed through treaties with France, Spain, and England.
Thus, in 1790, nearly two centuries before Poarch was recognized as a tribe, President Washington executed a treaty with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The head of the Muscogee treaty delegation was from Hickory Ground. Poarch not only desecrated a sacred site of the Muscogee, they desecrated the wellspring of Muscogee leaders who legitimized the sovereignty of the United States.
Despite its desecration by the Poarch, Hickory Ground remains an integral part of Muscogee (Creek) religious and ceremonial life. 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 thousand 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.
The Poarch Band, which numbers just over 3,000, claims to be composed of Creek descendants who stayed in Alabama, assimilating with non-Indians during the forced removal of southeastern tribes on the Trail of Tears. The group began petitioning for federal recognition at a time when talk of Indian gaming was beginning, and received it in 1984.
“No amount of money is worth betraying our faith and disrespecting our ancestors. That land is sacred ground, and it needs to be returned to its sacred condition,” Mekko Thompson said. “We are fighting for that—for our elders, for our tribal members today, and future generations. This is for all of us.”
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