The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has resumed construction of a 20-story hotel and casino in Wetumpka after a brief delay for talks with Oklahoma Creeks upset with the development on what they say is sacred ancestral land.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians have resumed construction of a 20-story hotel and casino in Wetumpka similar to their flagship casino in Atmore. (AP Photo/Phillip Rawls)
MONTGOMERY, Alabama – The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has resumed construction of a 20-story hotel and casino in Wetumpka after a brief delay for talks with Oklahoma Creeks upset with the development of what they say is sacred ancestral land.
The Poarch Band earlier this month halted construction on the project for discussions with the Muscogee Creek Nation. The Poarch Band announced this afternoon that following a meeting in Oklahoma this week they are proceeding with the project.
Poarch Band Tribal Chairman Buford L. Rolin said the groups were at an impasse.
“This development is a reasonable approach to land use; and no one cares more about the sanctity of our land and the well-being of our people and our neighbors than we do,” Rolin said in a prepared statement.
“Since 2006, we have reached out to the Muscogee Nation with the hope
that they would be open to understanding the facts about the
twenty-first century conditions of what was once Hickory Ground Town and
would recognize that our development in Wetumpka does not alter that.
Unfortunately we have reached an impasse,” Rolin said.
The Poarch Band last summer announced the expansion of their electronic bingo casino in Wetumpka. The new $246 million Wind Creek Wetumpka will include a 20-story hotel tower with 285 rooms and a 90,000-square foot gaming floor with more than 2,500 electronic bingo machines. It is expected to be open by May 2013.
However, the Muscogee Nation of Creeks demanded a halt to the casino plans with the possibility of legal action if the development was not ceased.
Muscogee Nation officials say the Wetumpka site, called Hickory Ground, is considered sacred because it is a burial ground, a ceremonial site and was the last home of the Muscogee Nation, prior to the tribe’s forced removal to Indian Territory in the 1830s.
The Oklahoma Creeks objected to the fact that the Poarch Band several years ago exhumed 60 sets of remains and accompanying ceremonial objects instead of preserving the site.
“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. Hickory Ground needs to be restored to nature–that’s what we are striving for,” Mekko George Thompson, a Muscogee chief of 42 years, said in a statement released this evening.
Thompson released correspondence with Rolin from 2010 that indicated the Muscogee wanted the remains reburied in their original location.
“We believe our ancestors expected the graves to remain undisturbed in the ground,” Thompson wrote.
Rolin responded that they could not agree to that and planned for re-interment on the northern portion of the property.
Poarch Band Tribal Council Member Arthur Mothershed said today that remains found at the site have been re-interred, but the Oklahoma group wanted them moved again.
“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 re-interred and we cannot support disturbing those remains again,” Mothershed said.
Mothershed said no more remains will be disturbed. Poarch officials said the ceremonial site will be preserved.
“We 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,” Mothershed said.
The Wetumpka facility will be taller than the Poarch Creek’s flagship Wind Creek Casino & Hotel in Atmore, which is 17 stories tall.