Oklahoma Creeks renew lawsuit over Alabama casino
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma on Wednesday renewed its lawsuit against an Alabama Creek tribe for building a casino on what they say is sacred ancestral land.
Muscogee Creeks say the Poarch Band of Creeks in Alabama exhumed over 57 human remains to make way for the 20-story hotel and casino in Wetumpka, Alabama, despite their promises to protect the historic site. The lawsuit seeks “redress for this greedy, tragic, outrageous, and illegal act.”
“We’re not opposed to development, but a burial ground is no place for a casino,” Mekko George Thompson said in a statement. Thompson is chief of the Hickory Ground Tribal Town in Oklahoma.
The Muscogee Creeks first sued in 2012 when the casino was under construction, but the case was paused in 2017 for settlement negotiations. The casino opened in 2013.
Poarch Creek Tribal Chair and CEO Stephanie A. Bryan called the action unmerited said she wished they could have come to a mutual understanding “as family.”
“It deeply saddens us, as extended family to the Muscogee Nation, that they have taken this unwarranted action against us,” Bryan said in a statement.
“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,” Bryan said.
The tribe has previously said remains were reinterred at the site.
The site on the banks of the Coosa River is the called Hickory Ground. Muscogee Creeks say it was the site of a sacred ceremonial ground and many individual graves. It was the last capital of the Creek nation before the tribe was forcibly removed to Indian Territory in the 1830s.
The lawsuit accuses the Alabama tribe of violating the National Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves Protection Act. The court filing on Wednesday seeks to resume the lawsuit that was stayed for settlement negotiation.
The lawsuit seeks restoration of the site and monetary damages on behalf of Thompson as a representative of the descendants of the Creeks buried at Hickory Ground.
The Muscogee Creeks claim the Poarch Creeks, who have tribal land in another part of Alabama, do not have historical ties to the Hickory Ground site, but acquired the land with historic preservation funds in 1980. A protective covenant on the land expired after 20 years.
“These ancestors that were exhumed from the site are Muscogee Creek ancestors,” said Lauren King, an attorney representing the Muscogee Nation, said.
“We are just asking for Poarch to abide by the promise it made when it acquired the property in the first place. That promise was made in recognition of the extreme religious and cultural importance of the Hickory Ground site,” King said.
The Poarch Band is Alabama’s only federally recognized tribe. They have become a gambling powerhouse with three bingo casinos in Alabama and holdings outside the state.