Native Americans continue fight against Poarch Creek casino

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Native American activists will continue their fight against the $246 million expansion of a casino in Wetumpka operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians with demonstrations on Saturday.

This is a rendering of Creek Casino Wetumpka planned for the banks of the Coosa River in Wetumpka.

Members of the Muscogee Creek Nation in Oklahoma and some Poarch Creeks have said the land in Wetumpka where the casino is being expanded is sacred land known as Hickory Ground, the last known capital of the Creek Nation before the federal government forced them west. They believe the Poarch Creeks are desecrating the sacred land, which includes a tribal burial ground and a ceremonial ground, and the Muscogee Creeks filed a federal lawsuit to try to stop the development.

“We are trying to preserve that sacred site,” said William Bailey, a former Poarch Creek tribal council member who said he began having concerns about the Poarch Creeks developing the site when they began archeological work there years ago. He is helping to organize the protest.

“I just wish they would stop. Not just there – but all across the United States – digging up Native American graves,” Bailey said.

The groups Save Hickory Ground and Idle No More, an organization founded in Canada that has spread through social media, announced there will be demonstrations in Tulsa, Okla., and Wetumpka on Saturday. The demonstration in Tulsa will include Native American speakers, dancers, food, a Pow Wow with a drum group, and a press conference.

In Wetumpka, people will demonstrate from noon until about 4 p.m. at Gold Star Park.

People can find more information about the event at: http://www.facebook.com/events/461051503943231/

Bailey said Saturday is a peaceful demonstration to talk about the construction and possible avenues to stop the development, about the destruction of other historic sites, and about preserving the earth.

He said they want others to know “people won’t just sit back and let the earth be destroyed by different things like them digging up” graves, which he said would then not be there for “our children and grandchildren to be able to see and experience.”

“We recognize and respect their First Amendment right to freedom of speech,” Sharon Delmar, public relations tribal liaison for the Poarch Band, wrote in an email to the Montgomery Advertiser in response to a request for comment.

Muscogee Creeks and some other Native American activists have objected to the development, which they said led to the removal of multiple human remains.

The Muscogee Creeks, who filed the federal lawsuit on Dec. 12, believe the Poarch Creeks have violated the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and other federal laws in developing the hotel and casino.

Poarch Creek leaders briefly halted construction in the fall during discussions with Muscogee leaders, but resumed the work on Oct. 31 after they said the two sides reached an impasse.

Poarch Creek tribal leaders have said they are aiming for a development that is culturally sensitive while ensuring the economic future of the tribe. They have said all of the remains have been reinterred and vowed that no more remains will be disturbed.

Poarch Creek leaders have said they started construction of the 20-story, $246 million hotel and casino in July and expected to complete construction by January 2014.

Bailey said the Poarch Creeks received a grant to help purchase the land to preserve it.

“The tribe really went back on their word by digging up graves to put a casino there,” he said.

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

– posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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