The Muscogee Nation tribe has renewed its federal lawsuit against the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, alleging that the construction of a casino in Wetumpka illegally desecrated a burial site and violated numerous federal laws.
The Muscogee originally filed suit against the Poarch Creeks in 2012 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, alleging that the removal of remains and artifacts from the Hickory Grounds burial site by PCI to build its Wind Creek Casino violated an agreement between the tribes and also violated federal law. That legal action was paused by the court as the two sides attempted to reach a compromise.
“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 Hickory Grounds location was the last tribal capital for the Muscogee before the federal government forcibly removed them from Alabama as part of the Trail of Tears in 1830. The Poarch Creeks acquired the 33-acre burial site in 1980 and agreed not to build on the site for 20 years.
That agreement expired in 2000, and PCI announced plans for its Wind Creek Casino later that year. Those plans, and building on the Hickory Grounds site, were approved by the federal government.
However, the Muscogees contend that the approval from the federal government also required consultation between the tribes over the proper treatment of the burial site.
PCI officials say they’ve held those discussions.
“It deeply saddens us, as extended family to the Muscogee Nation, that they have taken this unwarranted action against us,” said PCI Tribal Chair Stephanie Bryan. “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.”
PCI isn’t the only defendant in the lawsuit.
The Muscogees also sued several federal agencies, a construction company and Auburn University over the removal of the 57 graves at the site.
The federal agencies improperly approved the action, according to the lawsuit, and the construction company built on the site.
Archaeologists from Auburn excavated the site and still maintain several artifacts illegally taken from Hickory Grounds, the lawsuit claims.