Friday, 19 October 2012

Poarch Creeks halt casino construction

The Poarch Creek Indians stopped construction of their planned 20-story hotel and casino in Wetumpka this week with plans for more discussions soon about the future of the site that some Creeks consider sacred.

Construction halted at 5 p.m. Tuesday, according to statements from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and the Muscogee Nation of Creek Indians, which fought expansion of the casino.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief George Tiger met with Poarch Creek leaders including Chairman Buford Rolin on Oct. 8 to discuss the ongoing rift between them over the expansion of the casino, according to a Tuesday news release from the Muscogee Creeks.

?Construction will be halted today at 5 p.m. which will include removing construction personnel, park equipment, and measures to ensure the safety of the site,? according to the Muscogee Creek news release that referenced a Monday email from Poarch Band Attorney General Venus McGhee to Principal Chief Tiger?s legal counsel Yonne Tiger. ?The decision to halt construction was made to show a measure of good faith from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians after a request from Principal Chief George Tiger.

?As ongoing discussions between the Muscogee Creek Nation and the Poarch Band continue, construction will not proceed until further notice.?

Tiger, according to the news release, said they are scheduling a meeting ?in the coming weeks to discuss a resolution to this matter.?

Robert McGhee, treasurer for the tribal council for the Poarch Creek Indians, confirmed the stoppage in an email to the Montgomery Advertiser on Wednesday morning and wrote that the decision was made by Rolin and the Muscogee chief.

?Our tribal leadership has a meeting scheduled with the Muskogee Creek Nation?s leadership in the next few days. We will have a comment after that meeting,? McGhee wrote.

Leadership of the Muscogee Nation of Creek Indians demanded in August that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians stop expansion of Creek Casino Wetumpka. They had vowed to take legal action if the expansion at the site along the Coosa River did not stop.

The Muscogee Creeks believe the land where the casino is located is on sacred land they know as Hickory Ground, where their ancestors lived and where there is a ceremonial ground, a tribal burial ground and individual graves. They believe the sacred land is being desecrated.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which operate casinos in Montgomery, Atmore and Wetumpka, announced in July that they were expanding the casino in Wetumpka, spending $246 million to create a 20-story hotel and casino on the banks of the Coosa River. Tribal officials said construction started in July and was expected to be complete by January 2014.

The Muscogee Creeks, in their news release, said the Poarch Creeks agreed to the stoppage after the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes unanimously approved a resolution Friday stating ?the Inter-Tribal Council of Five Civilized Tribes supports the lawful efforts of the lineal descendants of Ocevpofv (Hickory Ground) ceremonial ground/tribal town to halt the desecration and all future desecrations of Ocevpofv ceremonial ground/tribal town located in Wetumpka, Alabama, as should be afforded protection under federal laws.?

Earlier in the resolution, the tribes wrote that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians desecrated the original location of Hickory Ground, that they are currently in violation of Federal Historic Preservation laws, and that they are violating Muscogee Creek traditions.

The council, according to the resolution, unites the tribal governments of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, (Muscogee) Creek, and Seminole nations, which represent more than 750,000 blood descendants of those tribes from the southeastern United States.

McGhee said in a previous statement that ?we have taken great care to honor history and preserve the past while ensuring the future for our tribe.?

Archaeologists from Auburn University excavated approximately 52 human remains and associated funerary objects during previous construction at the site. The archaeologists discovered the ceremonial ground at the site in 2005 and, according to the Poarch Creeks, ?construction was halted immediately and plans were undertaken to begin historic preservation of the area.?

The Poarch Creeks told the Advertiser in August that there would not be any further removal of remains for the casino expansion and they would not disturb the ceremonial ground.

McGhee also recently told the Advertiser that all of the human remains and burial objects that were previously excavated at the site were reinterred in mid-April after unsuccessfully trying to work with the Muscogee Creeks to agree on a location for reinterment for six years. The Muscogee Creeks wanted the remains reinterred where they were exhumed with the associated funerary objects.

The sacred land was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

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