Photo courtesy Save Hickory Ground
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians denied some of its members and members of the Hickory Ground Tribal Town access to the ceremonial ground to pray for the ancestors who were buried there. The sacred site is under construction for the new Poarch casino.

Poarch Band Blocks Ceremony on Sacred Hickory Ground

Gale Courey Toensing


The Poarch Band of Creek Indians blocked access to the sacred Hickory Ground by a group of traditional Creek Indians who planned to hold a prayer ceremony on Valentine’s Day for their ancestors buried there. Instead the group prayed in a nearby parking lot joined by pastors from local churches
The Poarch Band officials refused to allow the group onto the sacred site in Wetumpka, Alabama, because it is under construction for their new $246 million casino. A day before the planned ceremony, Poarch officials announced they “reserved the right to restrict access to a construction site for safety reasons.”
The attempted ceremony was organized by Save Hickory Ground members who oppose the casino construction on the sacred site. The Poarch Band excavated 57 sets of human remains from the burial ground to accommodate the new casino, according to court documents.
The traditional Creeks attending the ceremony included Wayland Gray, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation who traveled from Oklahoma to attend the ceremony, and William Bailey, the Mekko, or Traditional Chief of the Hvsosv Tallahassee ceremonial ground of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who formerly served on its tribal council.
“Today we were denied access to the property to pay respects to the ones dug up and the sacred place that’s being desecrated by the Poarch officials,” Gray said in a video on the group’s Facebook page. “Today we had a couple of preachers with us. They were going to pray and provide moral support because they too are against this, just like every human should be. If the Poarch win this it’s bad for all people because it will set precedent that it’s ok to build on sacred places and dig people up for financial gain.”
The confrontation is the latest event in a long running struggle between the Poarch Band and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation over Hickory Ground, an historic Muscogee (Creek) Nation Tribal Town that includes a ceremonial ground, a tribal burial ground and individual graves. The Muscogee Nation says the casino construction is a desecration of the sacred site. Hickory Ground Tribal Town was the Muscogee Creeks’ last capitol before the tribe was ethnically cleansed and removed to Oklahoma following Andrew Jackson’s 1830 Indian Removal Act. The Poarch Creeks remained and cooperated with the Americans.
In December, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, Hickory Ground Tribal Town, and Muscogee traditional chief Mekko George Thompson filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Poarch Band and others to stop the construction of the casino. A central claim concerns the excavated human remains of Muscogee ancestors in violation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and other federal laws. The lawsuit is pending.
Sam Deer, a Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizen, told the Montgomery Advertiser, that the traditional group was not against gaming. “Some people say that we’re against gaming but we’re not against the gaming casino, we’re against where it’s being built. We’ve never heard of people digging up graves… for their financial gain. This is what you would call a want; it’s not a need, it’s a want,” Deer said. The burial ground is “an eternal resting place” for the ancestors, Deer said. “They said they dug up 57 people but our people lived here for hundreds and hundreds of years and I’m positive that through those years more than 57 people died here… My understanding is last April they dug a hole and threw all the bones in there and covered it back up. That kind of behavior took place overseas during the wars when they had mass graves, but I thought it was over. I see that it’s happening here in Wetumpka, Alabama, where Hickory Ground once was.”
Gray said the Save Hickory Ground group will continue its efforts to stop the desecration of Hickory Ground. “We are not done here. We came here to pay our respects to our ancestors and sacred place on the property. Today we came in peace and gave the Poarch a chance to do the right thing the Native way and allow us to pay respects to our ancestors and sacred place.” 
The group planned to return to Hickory Ground on February 15.

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jimmy blue thunder's picture
jimmy blue thunder
Submitted by jimmy blue thunder on

jryker's picture
Submitted by jryker on
Just to let the people involved know...this is a case study in our tribal repatriation classes within the Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs). Following closely what the outcome will be.

Eli Grayson's picture
Eli Grayson
Submitted by Eli Grayson on
Are we really surprised? The poarch ghoul leadership, you know those identity thieves who have stolen Mvskoke culture and history and been lying to public about who they are from day one, and that would be the day their treasonous ancestors became Americans to ally with Andrew Jackson to steal land from Creeks...we can expect no less, their federal recognition fraud was all about making money at whatever cost, never about Creek they used the sympathy and guilt of the white folk in Alabama and played Indian that the state mistakenly gave them this place believing they would protect it from development....well folks...ghouls cant change behavior...the US must terminate this nightmare and may I suggest to the state of officials of Alabama, if you want Creeks in Alabama then you should come ask Creeks to return...

matthew knutson's picture
matthew knutson
Submitted by matthew knutson on
why does no one have respect for the dead and money is the peoples down fall remember the white buffalo calf woman's story and remember the pipe. the wrath of the dead shall be the down fall of the casino

Jim Dees's picture
Jim Dees
Submitted by Jim Dees on
First I've heard of this. I am Poarch Creek; my family is from Uriah, and my cousin is active there on the reservation. I am proud of those who challenge us to maintain our traditional values in the face of temptation and greed.

Dee Franklin's picture
Dee Franklin
Submitted by Dee Franklin on
These are sacred burial grounds and should not be disturbed for any reason by anyone. But to disturb and move them for for something like a casino is totally sacrilegious. The one thing any person who passes on from this world should be guaranteed to know is that their final resting place will be left intact for time in memorial.

3pp8cu's picture
Submitted by 3pp8cu on
d0nt they habe a alw were no sacred land can be touched' also the un was invold in na land and bbc love natives maybe they can help dal no more

Kay Olson-Martz's picture
Kay Olson-Martz
Submitted by Kay Olson-Martz on
This ground should be kept sacred. Don't we have enough Casino's? Sam Deer is so correct in his statement above. Grave sites should be respected as those who are laid to rest there should also be respected.

Philip Hice's picture
Philip Hice
Submitted by Philip Hice on
I was to understand that the escavation was done with archeological reverence to the remains and that the area has been farmed and used over the years and that the traditional Creeks said it would be ok if the Poarch band paid them some of the revenues that were gained by the casino. It seems everyone just wants a little piece of the action.

escaswv cvpko's picture
escaswv cvpko
Submitted by escaswv cvpko on
@ Philip Hice ~~~ Please let us know who told you this. Because they were lakse (lying to you). The written position of the Hickory Ground people has been, all along, that this sacred site should be restored to its original state. Period. They have not asked for money. They have not asked for a "share." They have not asked for damages. No one who is truly a member of Hickory Ground would ever even say such a thing. You obviously do not know them. Anyone who would say something like that was definitely not authorized by any leader or member of Hickory Ground, much less by the entire group. These are a very religious people. Please respect that.

escaswv cvpko's picture
escaswv cvpko
Submitted by escaswv cvpko on
@ Philip Hice ~~~ There was no archeological reverence whatsoever here. This was rushed, "salvage" archeology. The students were working right in front of the bulldozers. Bones were partially wrapped in old newspapers, placed in plastic buckets and stored in an unlocked building. Only 57 remains were found on a site where thousands of people lived over thousands of years -- not only the Hickory Ground people, but other Muscogee people as well in earlier times. Where people lived, people died. And where our people died, we buried them. The archeologists hired by Poarch had no understanding of Muscogee culture whatsoever. When the Hickory Ground people asked them in a public meeting if they had found the "circle" (that marks the most sacred part of their ceremonial area), the archeologists responded "What's that?" The place the archeologists claim is a ceremonial area is not: it is too small, there are burials there, it is not oriented in the standard direction,, and there are burials present. After years of requests by the Hickory Ground people to reinter their ancestors where they had been taken from, Poarch reburied (they say) the bones in a mass grave on the same day their "invitation" was received by mail in Oklahoma -- no Hickory Ground or Muscogee people had any chance to observe, much less participate.

escaswv cvpko's picture
escaswv cvpko
Submitted by escaswv cvpko on
@ Philip Hice ~~~ Please do not compare some farmer unknowingly plowing for crops with the deliberate heavy excavation of a site where the descendants are actively contesting any desecration. If he had known, the farmer might not have wanted crops from a cemetery.

escaswv cvpko's picture
escaswv cvpko
Submitted by escaswv cvpko on
@ Phillip Hice ~~~ You have totally misunderstood. Poarch was offering money. Hickory Ground only asked that the burials be returned to the spots they were taken from. Someone is not explaining thing to you correctly. The Hickory Ground people's position all along, whether in writing or verbal, has been to return this site to its natural state.

Bill Snyder's picture
Bill Snyder
Submitted by Bill Snyder on
Unfortunately; GREED and IGNORANCE, go hand and hand.What SHOULD have meaning; is LOST FOREVER, when it comes to $$$$$, the ruination, of Society.May the Creator; continue to bless; those who came before us and made the Ultimate Sacrifice, so we could have a better Life.Shame on those; who have lost their way. WAKE UP....