Muscogee Tribe Revives Complaint that Casino Desecrated Graves

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Posted on: July 26, 2023, 08:44h. 

Last updated on: July 26, 2023, 08:44h.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation (MCN) has rekindled a lawsuit against the Poarch Creek Band of Indians that alleges the latter tribe desecrated a sacred MCN site when it built its Wind Creek Casino and Resort in Wetumpka.

Muscogee, MCN, Poarch Creek, Wind Creek Casino Wetumpka
The Wind Creek Casino Wetumpka, pictured above, is built on MCN sacred ground, according to a revived lawsuit by the tribe. (Image: Wetumpka Herald)

MCN is based in Oklahoma, but its ancestral homelands are in what now comprises much of Alabama, as well as parts of Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida.

Most of the tribe was forcibly removed to Oklahoma in the 1830s, as part of a federal policy of forced repatriation. Thousands of Muscogee, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole tribe members died en route from disease, hunger, and exposure in an event that came to be known as the Trail of Tears.

Human Remains Removed

During a longstanding legal fight with the Alabama-based Poarch Creeks, MCN claims the Wind Creek casino was built at Hickory Ground, MCN’s last capital in Oklahoma and a sacred burial site.

The lawsuit alleges 57 sets of human remains and the artifacts buried with them were removed in 2001. This was during the construction of the bingo parlor that later grew into the casino.

It further claims that the human remains were stored in containers without proper ventilation or temperature control.

The suit also names Auburn University, whose archeologists helped remove and store some of the remains so they could be studied.

‘Do Right by Them’

“You made a promise to protect these lands and the MCN ancestors who remain there,” wrote David Hill, the Muscogee Nation’s principal chief, in a letter to the Poarch Creeks last month. “A promise that was broken when you removed our ancestors, stored them in boxes, and sent them off to a university to be studied by non-Indian archeologists. Some, still today, sit in a storage facility on site. You have yet to do right by them.”

Sovereign Immunity

The case was dismissed by a US district judge in 2021 on the grounds that the Poarch Creeks could not be sued because, as a sovereign nation, they are shielded from liability by sovereign immunity.

Now MCN is asking a federal appeals court to reconsider. The appeal seeks to halt further development on the Hickory Ground and have the Wind Creek Casino torn down.

It accuses Auburn University of violating the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. This mandates that federally funded museums and universities must return ancestors and their artefacts to their descendants.

Both the Poarch Creeks and Auburn have declined to comment on the appeal.

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