The Muscogee (Creek) Nation has turned to a federal appeal court asking it to reinstate the legal action against the Poarch Creek Band of Indians and Auburn Univerisity for allegedly improperly removing graves from a sacred land in the state of Alabama to establish a casino venue.
The Native American nation based in Oklahoma claims that the Wind Creek Casino and Resort based in Wetumpka, Alabama, was established at Hickory Ground – a sacred piece of land that served as a capital at the time when the Muscogees were forced out of Alabama almost 200 years by federal troops. According to the legal action that was originally filed in 2021, a total of 57 sets of human remains and the artifacts buried with them were removed by construction workers, who also stored some of them in containers without proper temperature control or ventilation.
A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2021. However, on July 21st, the tribal nation approached the 11th Circuit US Court of Appeals in Atlanta to reinstate it.
A letter that the principal chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, David Hill, sent in June to the Alabama-based Poarch Creek tribe, stated that the tribe failed to meet its obligation to Muscogee ancestors. According to Mr. Hill, the Poarch Creek tribe broke its promise to protect the lands and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation ancestors buried there, with some of the remains still locked in a storage facility.
Previous Lawsuit against the Poarch Creek Tribe Was Dismissed
The state of Alabama is the ancestral home of the Muscogee Nation, with Hickory Ground being the last capital before removal on the Trail of Tears.
The court appeal states that the modern-day members of Hickory Ground have kept their ancestors’ culture, traditions, and ceremonies alive at the present-day Hickory Ground on the Oklahoma-based Muscogee Reservation.
The controversy between the Poarch Creek tribe and the Muscogee nation has been ongoing for years. At the time when the Alabama-based tribe built a bingo hall on the site in 2001, it unburied some human remains and artifacts with the help of some Auburn University archaeologists. A spokesperson for Auburn University issued a statement that the university had no comment on the appeal, which maintains that it breached the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, under which federally-funded universities and museums are required to return ancestors and items buried with them to their descendants.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s appeal seeks the court to stop further development of the land that is part of Hickory Ground. The legal action also seeks the court to issue an order to demolish the Wind Creek Casino and to have the ancestral remains returned to their descendants.
Hickory Ground became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The land was acquired in the same year by the Poarch Creek Band, and in 1999 the tribal nation asked the National Park Service to hand over its preservation duties to the tribe. After that, the Native American tribe started planning the establishment of a bingo hall that was later expanded into the Wind Creek Casino.
As mentioned above, the 2012 lawsuit was dismissed by US District Judge Myron Thompson in 2021, after being renewed in 2019. According to Judge Thompson’s opinion, the Poarch Creek Band has qualified immunity and cannot be taken to court for developing its land because it is a federally recognized tribe.