Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Poarch Creek tribe restarts casino work

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has resumed construction of its $246 million casino expansion in Wetumpka after halting building two weeks ago to try to resolve disagreements with an Oklahoma tribe that believes the construction is further desecrating the land.

Leaders with the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma, which consider the site sacred, met with Poarch Creek Tribal Council members in Oklahoma this week, but Tribal Chairman Buford Rolin said in a statement sent to the Montgomery Advertiser that the two sides are at an impasse.

According to correspondence between tribal leaders released by an attorney for the Muscogee Creeks on Wednesday, the two sides appeared close to an agreement in the fall of 2010, but the two sides could not reach an agreement about where to relocate human remains that had been excavated during the construction of the current casino.

?From the beginning, it has been our stance that the remains should be put back where they were excavated. The ceremonial ground remains sacred, so it is not a proper place for a casino,? Mekko George Thompson, Muscogee chief of 42 years, said in a statement sent to the Advertiser on Wednesday by an attorney for the tribe.

Poarch Creek Tribal Council member Arthur Mothershed, in the statement sent to the Advertiser, said they have been ?extremely careful to plan a development that is culturally sensitive while ensuring the economic well-being of our tribal members, our community, and our state. It is a balanced, reasonable approach for using land that we own, which has been met with increased opposition from some in Oklahoma.

?Now, we are being faced with demands to remove ancestral remains that have already been reinterred,? Mothershed said. ?We can ensure that no more remains will be excavated. It has been almost eight years since any remains have been unearthed. We cannot change the fact that remains were found and removed. Those remains are now reinterred and we cannot support disturbing those remains again.?

Robert McGhee, a Poarch Creek Tribal Council member who heads the tribe?s Governmental Affairs Office, previously 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 the tribe was unsuccessful in trying for six years to work with the Muscogee Creeks to agree on a location for reinterment.

Poarch Creek leaders have said they started construction of the 20-story hotel and casino in July and expect to complete construction by January 2014.

Leadership of the Muscogee Creeks, whose ancestors lived on the land before being forced west, demanded in August that the Poarch Creeks stop expansion of Creek Casino Wetumpka. They vowed to take legal action if the expansion at the site along the Coosa River did not stop.

In their news release, the Poarch Creeks said that they halted construction in good faith so that leadership from the two tribes could meet again to discuss concerns.

?We are indeed saddened by the outcome of this recent trip to Oklahoma made by representatives of our Tribal Council,? Rolin said.

The Muscogee Creeks believe the land where the casino is located is 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.

The Poarch Creeks have argued, despite accusations from the Muscogee Creeks and other tribes, that they are in compliance with applicable federal laws and historic preservation laws.

The Poarch Band, the only federally recognized tribe in Alabama, operates casinos in Montgomery, Atmore and Wetumpka.

The Muscogee Creeks, in their news release announcing the stoppage of construction earlier this month, said the Poarch Creeks agreed to the stoppage after the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes unanimously approved a resolution 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, are currently in violation of Federal Historic Preservation laws, and are violating Muscogee Creek traditions.


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