Creek Nation wants Alabama casino construction stopped
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON World Correspondent
Saturday, November 03, 2012
11/03/12 at 5:33 AM
Despite concerns from a local tribe, the Alabama-based Poarch Band of Creek Indians resumed construction this week on a $246 million casino expansion project near Wetumka, Ala.
The tribe stopped construction two weeks ago as a "show of good faith" to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, which has opposed the project due to its potential desecration of Hickory Ground.
Hickory Ground was the tribe's capital before its removal to Oklahoma and home to ceremonial and burial grounds. During the construction, more than 50 sets of human remains were dug up, including those of seven chiefs.
"We have taken great effort to make sure the original Hickory Ground ceremonial site is preserved and the remains that were removed earlier have been reinterred at Hickory Ground Town in a manner previously agreed to by traditional leaders in Oklahoma," Poarch Band Tribal Council member and government affairs officer Robert McGhee said. "The remaining acreage located on the northern part of Hickory Ground will be preserved in a pristine, natural state for posterity."
The site is on the Poarch Band's reservation and is considered sacred by the Creek Nation. The Alabama tribe purchased the land in 1980, four years before it received recognition by the federal government. In 2007, the two tribes signed a memorandum of understanding that the grounds would be preserved "in perpetuity."
The decision to resume construction comes after three face-to-face meetings in October between the tribes' leaders to discuss the situation and attempt to reach a compromise. Two were at neutral sites and the third was held earlier this week in Tulsa in order to allow George Thompson, the leader or mekko of the ceremonial grounds for 42 years, to attend.
"From the beginning, it has been our stance that the remains should be put back where they were excavated," he said. "The ceremonial ground remains sacred, so it is not a proper place for a casino. Hickory Ground needs to be restored to nature - that's what we are striving for."
George Tiger, the principal chief of the Creek Nation, echoed Thompson's concerns Friday while acknowledging that the two tribes have, at least for now, come to an impasse.
"This has been a sensitive topic," he said. "As a nation, we have facilitated three meetings to try to see if we could come to some kind of conclusion. We knew this would be difficult going in. The biggest thing we see is that tradition as we know it here in Oklahoma is not the same as it is in Alabama. We value our culture and how things have been handed down to us. Alabama is still in an educational process.
"It's unfortunate that this is going to continue. They had to make a decision and we're going to have to make one, too."
The casino is slated to open in January 2014 with 2,500 gaming machines and a 20-story hotel with 285 rooms. It is expected to create 1,000 jobs in the area. The 3,000-citizen Poarch Band of Creek Indians also operates casinos in Montgomery and Atmore, Ala.
Original Print Headline: Creek Nation fights casino construction on sacred grounds