Photo courtesy Save Hickory Ground
Wayland Gray has been arrested by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and charged with an alleged terrorist threat.

Muscogee Man Held on Terrorist Threat Charge for Attempted Prayer at Hickory Ground

Gale Courey Toensing


When Andrew Jackson’s illegal and heavily censured actions during the First Seminole War in 1817 were used two years ago to support a controversial provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that allows the indefinite detention without charge or trial of anyone suspected of “terrorism,” Native Americans were alarmed that the federal government could use the  legislation against them for asserting their right to self-determination, sovereignty and the protection of their lands and resources against exploitation by governments or corporations.  They never imagined that a tribal government would do the same.

But now Wayland Gray, a Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizen, has been arrested by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians at the Muscogee sacred site at Hickory Ground in Wetumpka, Alabama, which is currently owned by the Poarch Band, and charged with an alleged “terrorist theat.” The Poarch authorities have not revealed the details of the charges.

Gray was arrested on Friday, February 15, along with Mike Harjo and Michael Deo, also Muscogee Creeks from Oklahoma, and a man who identified himself as a Cherokee Indian named Maggot, according to Native News Network. They were arrested for attempting for the second day to go to the Hickory Ground burial site and pray for the Muscogee Creek ancestors who are buried there. Gray, Harjo and Deo are members of the Hickory Ground Tribal Town; Maggot is a member of the Alabama American Indian Movement, according to Native News Network. The attempted prayer ceremony is part of a large movement of opposition against the Poarch Band’s excavation of at least 57 sets of human remains and construction of a casino on the sacred site.

The four men were arrested for trespassing, handcuffed and taken to the Elmore County Jail in Wetumpka, Alabama. Harjo, Deo and Maggot were soon released on bonds of around $450 each, according to Muscogee Nation attorney Brendan Ludwick. Gray was given the additional “terrorist threat” charge, assigned a $30,000 cash bail, and kept in jail, Ludwick said.

In an exclusive phone interview with Indian Country Today Media Network from the Elmore County Jail, Gray said the Poarch Band has trumped up the terrorist charge against him. “We went to our graveyard to honor our ancestors and we were arrested and they put a bogus charge on me,” Gray said. “When I was getting into the [police] car I told them that one day we will be back and we’ll be able to honor our ancestors when this place [the casino] is torn down.”

Gray said his comment about the casino being “torn down” referred to a federal lawsuit filed by the Muscogee Nation against the Poarch Band last December. The lawsuit asks the court for a preliminary and permanent injunction to stop the casino construction from going forward, citing the removal of the 57 sets of ancestral remains as a violation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and other federal laws. The lawsuit also asks the court for a declaration of Muscogee rights to Hickory Ground under the laws of the United States.

Gray said the Poarch officials twisted what he said about the casino being torn down. “They tried to say that I said I would burn it down. Why would I say that when I’m sitting out there on video?” Gray asked. The Poarch Band made a video of the arrest, but hasn’t released it, Gray said. “I challenge the Poarch Band to release that video but they haven’t because it would prove that’s not what I said. I doubt they’ll release it because they don’t work that way.” One of the Elmore County Jail police and the sheriff are Poarch Band members, Gray said.

Gray said—and Deo confirmed on a Save Hickory Ground Facebook post—that the four men were not read their Miranda rights.

“I wasn’t read my rights, never at any time,” Gray said. “When I got into the car I asked what I was being charged with and they said trespassing and when I got to jail, two hours later the Poarch Band cops came walking in and told me I was being charged with a terrorist threat.”

The “terrorist threat” charge is a felony. “This is a very serious charge,” Ludwick said. “But publicly, they’re not saying what he said, they’re just saying he made a threat, but we’re sure he never said anything about burning down the place and the other guys who were there confirmed that.”

Ludwick noted that Monday is a holiday and by arresting Gray on a Friday Poarch could “pretty much assure he’d be in there for a three-day weekend. The Poarch Band is very influential in Wetumpka, Ludwick said.

“They have control over the law enforcement and the local judiciary. This is a small town and almost the whole town is on the Poarch payroll.” Ludwick said the terrorist charge is a violation of Gray’s First Amendment right of free speech and an attempt to silence him, because he has led the opposition to the desecration of Hickory Ground. “He’s like a political prisoner,” Ludwick said.

Poarch spokeswoman Sharon Delmar did not respond to an email asking for details about Gray’s alleged “terrorist threat” and whether Poarch intends to release the video. According to Native News Network, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians issued a statement late Friday, saying, "The individuals were advised to leave. These individuals made threatening comments and were repeatedly warned that they were trespassing and facing imminent arrest. These individuals continued to challenge tribal police and were arrested." Neither Muscogee Nation Chief George Tiger nor Poarch Tribal Chairman Buford L. Rolin could be reached for comment on Sunday.

Hickory Ground is a historic Muscogee (Creek) Nation Tribal Town that includes a ceremonial ground, a tribal burial ground and individual graves. It was the Muscogee Nation Creeks’ last capitol before the tribe was ethnically cleansed and removed to Oklahoma on the Trial of Tears following Andrew Jackson’s 1830 Indian Removal Act. The Poarch remained in Alabama and cooperated with the Americans.

The Poarch Band’s traditional home territory is in the area of Atmore, Alabama, more than 135 miles southwest of Wetumpka. Poach acquired the traditional Muscogee Hickory Ground site almost by fluke.  Although the Poarch Band was not federally acknowledged until 1984, the Alabama Historical Commission received a $165,000 grant from the Interior Department in 1980 to purchase Hickory Ground then transferred it to the Poarch Band. The Muscogee Nation did not object to the transfer at the time because Poarch promised to prevent development. Poarch acknowledged at the time that Hickory Ground is the ancestral home of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and claimed that “they will be pleased to know their home in Alabama is being preserved… The Hickory Ground site will continue to enhance their understanding of their history, without excavation.” But shortly after the Interior Department took Hickory Ground into trust in 1984, the Poarch Band unveiled plans to develop a gaming facility there. The Muscogee Nation has been fighting the desecration of their sacred site ever since.

Gray thinks he was targeted for arrest “because of my stance against the desecration. I don’t want to say because of my leadership because my leader is my chief [Muscogee Mekko George Thompson, who has served as a traditional Chief of the Oce Vpofa Muscogee Creeks in Oklahoma for 42 years], but I’ve probably said more than a lot of people.”

Opposition to the Poarch casino on Hickory Ground is considerable. Last October, the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes voted unanimously on a resolution supporting the efforts “of the lineal descendants of Ocevpofv (Hickory Ground) Ceremonial Ground/Tribal Town to halt the desecration and all future desecrations of Ocevpofv located in Wetumpka, Alabama, as should be afforded protection under Federal Laws.” The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes represents the united tribal governments of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole Nations and more than 750,000 blood descendants of aboriginal peoples from the southeastern United States. The sharply-worded resolution says the Poarch Band has excavated more than 60 human remains and associated funerary objects, including the remains of seven Mekkos (Chiefs) that were buried in the arbors of the original ceremonial ground.

The arrests of Gray and the other men have provoked a fierce outcry on the Facebook pages Save Hickory Ground and Hickory Ground War. JoKay Dowell, of Quapaw, Cherokee, Peoria, Eastern Shawnee and Irish descent, posted the following on the Poarch page: “Your group's federal recognition was a sad day for American Indians. Your behavior of playing Indian (yes I've seen your powwows atop a mound) is repulsive. Having the DNA of the original peoples of this land is not enough to call yourselves one of ‘The People.’ Through the Bible and Christianity, you have been so far-removed from what it means to be Indigenous: Respect for your ancestors and ancestral life ways, instruction from the Creator on how to live, respect for the way you walk in this world, love for your one true mother whose name in English in EARTH. . .  You have been respectfully requested to do the right thing by the 'real' TRADITIONAL Muscogee culture-bearers who know who they are—the real descendants OF THE ANCESTORS YOU HAVE DISRESPECTED...and you had them thrown in jail? You will suffer the consequences. Creator has a way of taking care of these things, ALL IN HIS TIME.” The post was quickly removed, Dowell said.

Gray said he has no idea when he’ll be released. He is confined in a cell with 20 other people and conditions are “not good,” he said. But there are lessons to be learned from his arrest. “I think it’s pretty sad that back in 1832 Andrew Jackson removed us from that land at gunpoint and here we are in 2013 and the tribe that calls itself our ‘cousins’ had me at gunpoint or taser point and arrested me for coming back on the land.” He promised to return and continue the struggle against the desecration of Hickory Ground.

“The lesson to be learned, for one thing, is never surrender, never give up your sacred sites and your burials regardless if it means going to jail. We’ve got to stand up for our rights, Idle No More. It’s a sad day in Indian country when a tribe does this to its own people for greed. When the Poarch got federal recognition, they pretty much just got a country club card. They lost their ways, they don’t care about their culture or their traditions—they’re just all about money.”

On Sunday afternoon, Gray’s supporters set up a “Free Wayland Gray” legal defense fund for him at

In addition, Eli Grayson, an enrolled member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, has set up an online petition asking the Interior Department to terminate its relationship with the Poarch Band.  “In 1984, the Poarch was granted federal recognition under false information which has directly harmed the interest of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and its citizens,” the petition says. “The Poarch removed the remains of a Creek sacred burial place know as Hickory Ground and replaced them with an entertainment venue and casino instead [of] protecting the place from development as promised. The history that the Poarch provided to the federal government is in direct conflict with written history and the truth as to who they are. Their federal recognition is a fraud not only against the citizens of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation but also against the citizens of the state of Alabama. Their recognition was about monetary gain and not tribal traditions as [evidenced by] the blatant removal of Indian graves for casino developments.”

Read more:

Poarch Band Accuses Muscogee Creek Man of Terrorist Threat to Burn Casino

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Save Hickory Ground's picture
Save Hickory Ground
Submitted by Save Hickory Ground on
Please help us #savehickoryground and #freewayland Gray at and follow @Hickory_Ground

escaswv cvpko's picture
escaswv cvpko
Submitted by escaswv cvpko on
Wayland's 60,000 brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles out west in the Muscogee Nation are proud of him for standing up for what is right. Some day each of us hopes to visit the old Hickory Ground site on the Coosa River and see it in its natural state. And, that is not a threat. It's our vision.

Lynn Smith's picture
Lynn Smith
Submitted by Lynn Smith on
Oh for God's sake!!!!!!!!!, You have got to be kidding me!!! Release these men!

Robert Swift Arrow 's picture
Robert Swift Arrow
Submitted by Robert Swift Arrow on
The Hunger and Greed for $ MONEY$ makes our ancestors turn in their graves. Casino v Humanity Sad to say, but that's the way I see it today. As the people grow in numbers, so does the slice of per-cap pie become thinner. The expansion of the Casino-pie maker is needed, but it will become a test of our humanity,....bones for bucks, not right,..but a sad reality. May our ancestors rest in peace and be undisturbed

Rere Merrick's picture
Rere Merrick
Submitted by Rere Merrick on
Gee what happened to their heritage? Their culture? Our Tribe believes that our ancestors are sacred and we are not to disturb their burial sites. This sounds insane, who is so money hungry that they will do this? I doubt they are even Native Americans. Natives would not do such a thing as this. Let those men out of jail and respect yourselves and your ancestors. Leave those graves alone!!

Richard J. Carlton's picture
Richard J. Carlton
Submitted by Richard J. Carlton on
I find some of the comments about the establishment in the Crack House includes me. I'm one of those "white" boys that would and will stand with the Creek Nation to the end. To desecrate any grave is horrific, but to do so on the Creek sacred Ground is a crime. They indicated years ago they would "preserve" this ground, now they want to build a casino ? Fine, do it somewhere else, if they complete it, boycott it America, then it will be "Torn" Down as the young warrior indicated. Show the video, if he indicated "torn" down, my my, lawsuit big time. You will own the ground yourself Warrior.

wings of dawn's picture
wings of dawn
Submitted by wings of dawn on
Will it never end?? Indians have become as greedy as the white men. You will not prosper at the casino or anything else if you do not honor the bones and ashes of the ancestors. This is our way. Remember who we are and what we stand for. Don't be swayed by greed. Allow Gray to go. You each go and honor your forefathers. Shame on you.

Amanda's picture
Submitted by Amanda on
I gotta tell you, when an article makes bones about someone not being read his rights, that bespeaks such an knowledgeable reporter that I really can't take anything said at face value. In this case, I will accept some of the facts- there was a trespass, there was an arrest, but beyond that I can't pu any faith in your allegations.

cha wilson's picture
cha wilson
Submitted by cha wilson on
When i read this i physcial got ill,how dare them for jailing brother gray.The Poarch band should be ashame of themselves.

Ben Grouette 's picture
Ben Grouette
Submitted by Ben Grouette on
What crap, terrorist haha instead of arresting them they should have showed some respect and prayed with them

Julie Wright's picture
Julie Wright
Submitted by Julie Wright on
REALLY? It was Prayer! I am very proud of him for standing up for what is right. I can't see how they can build a casino on a grave site. Is the money really worth what you are doing to your ancestors. I think its disgusting, Let those men out of jail and have some respect for your people and for your ancestors.

shane comeback's picture
shane comeback
Submitted by shane comeback on
This is very sad and unfair, but being a Christian does not mean you cannot respect the earth and the old ways.

ponchie's picture
Submitted by ponchie on
Somebody post pics of the Sheriff, the Chief of police, the tribal chairman. Let's see what these folks look like.

wayne beaver's picture
wayne beaver
Submitted by wayne beaver on
evil does not discriminate. sadly enough it's in too many high places. desecration of burial sites sounds like a europian thing to me. it's not native american. and neither is greed. our prayers are with you wayland gray.

will sandoval 's picture
will sandoval
Submitted by will sandoval on
I was interviewed for a top post within Poarch and found interviewers comments very troubling, the focus seemed to be on the anglo mind set: greed. In light of current events, I am thankful that I was not selected or I, to, would be "forced" to choose profit/greed over culture! Local County officials ttried to shut these shanigans down but Poarch sought legal refuge under color of "sovereignty", which too many tribes are getting away with too many illegalities such as this incident!

thunderingraincloud's picture
Submitted by thunderingraincloud on
Please do not disturb the final resting place of the dearly loved and departed. Please release the men and free them of all worldly charges for speaking about something so close to our hearts and minds and spirits - a final place where no one will disturb our descendants. I will never step into your casino should you not choose another location and encourage an international boycott of your business because the way the leaders are pursuing an enterprise is ideally located on a different piece of land somewhere away from the gravesites - like there is so much land so dont do your dirty work with the dead looks like you already are doing it with the living.

Jim Girzone's picture
Jim Girzone
Submitted by Jim Girzone on

Peace Elder Anna Haala's picture
Peace Elder Ann...
Submitted by Peace Elder Ann... on
As first people we need to stand in our own truth and do what we were put here for in a good way. Thoughts and prayers are with you and yours. Peace Elder Anna Haala