BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Citing its sovereign immunity, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians has requested the dismissal of a federal lawsuit stemming from its proposed casino expansion.
Filed Wednesday in the Middle District of Alabama, the Atmore-based tribe rebutted claims from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation that efforts to expand the Poarch Band’s casino near Wetumpka, Ala., violate the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Due to its location, the $246 million construction project could potentially desecrate Hickory Ground, a burial site, ceremonial ground and the last pre-removal capitol of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. To date, 57 sets of human remains have been unearthed and reburied during the expansion process.
“Because the Poarch Band of Creek Indians is an Indian tribe and the Wetumpka site consists of lands owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the ARPA imposes no permit requirements on any activities undertaken by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians or its members,” wrote attorney David Smith on behalf of the tribe and its business arm, PCI Gaming.
In its filing, the Alabama tribe also maintained that it is in compliance with NAGPRA because the suit is from a tribe rather than the individual descendants of the individuals unearthed during the excavation process.
“Because the plaintiffs (the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Hickory Ground Tribal Town) are not the established lineal descendants of identified individuals whose remains have been recovered from the Wetumpka site, they have no ownership interest in such remains under NAGPRA,” Smith wrote.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has owned the land since 1980. The property was placed into trust in 1984 when the tribe received federal recognition.
A hearing date has not been set on the Poarch Band’s motion. Among the other defendants named in the suit are the tribe’s elected leaders, outgoing Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, Auburn University and several of the tribe’s vendors and contractors on the casino project, including Tulsa, Okla.-based Flintco, LLC.
Signs bearing the message "protect our sacred burial sites" are visible during the Jan. 28 Idle No More rally at the Oklahoma City Capitol.
NATIVE TIMES PHOTO BY LISA SNELL