A recent statement made in the press by council member Robert McGhee of the Poarch Band in Alabama, while being criticized by local county officials who felt they were being economically undermined by the Poarch gaming empire, typifies the Poarch casinos, one’s expansion, and its continual impact upon the Hickory Grounds issue of desecrating ancestral burial sites which has justifiably angered the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma.
“…Are you upset because we’re no longer the quiet group of poor Indians…”
That statement is the essence of false victimization and historical revisionism and one in a continuous series of misleading statements that have been the vanguard of Poarch leadership over numerous decades.
So who are the Poarch? By their own accounts, their very identity seems highly debatable. In a paper titled “Getting Recognized” written in 1996 by Poarch Creek tribal member and tribal Historic Preservation Officer Robert Thrower outlining the history of the Poarch Creek’s struggle for federal recognition, he states matter of fact,
“ Finally, 1n 1984, the Creek community around Poarch, Alabama, received formal recognition as a tribal unit, tribal lands were restored as reservation property, and the community formally reorganized as the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PBCI). They ‘got recognized.’ Suddenly, for both whites and Indians in south Alabama, there was again value in identification as Native American. A new problem was posed. Members of the ‘white’ community began to self-identify as ‘Creeks.’ The process of assimilation reversed. Tribal membership assumed increasing financial, social service, and employment benefits, and individuals now had to come to PBCI offices to ‘get recognized’ as Creek. Ironically, a local community that had once self-identified almost entirely as white seemed to become a community that self-identified almost entirely as Native American. Many individuals who had once avoided identification as Creek had to establish ties to a traditional Creek community they had previously shunned. This double meaning of ‘getting recognized’ has played a complex role in the Creek community of south Alabama. For years, the need to meet formal criteria for federal recognition provided cohesion and solidarity for a small, proud community that continued to self-identify as Native American. Then, after tribal recognition was granted, the tribal roll swelled with new members whose interest in tribal membership was in many cases more economic than cultural. Tribal elections have become a complicated struggle for leadership by two competing community groups. Among the Creeks in south Alabama, tribal membership has grown dramatically, but tribal cohesion and sense of direction has become much less clear.”
The Bureau of Acknowledgement and Research (now the Office of Federal Acknowledgement housed within the BIA for the purpose of “recognizing” tribes) were clearly clueless during the Poarch petition process.
“BAR investigators found that the Poarch powwow tradition had played a very important role in ‘enhancing local non-Indian support of the group as Indian, and remains a very important “barometer of tribal life.”
This of course is just ridiculous. Powwows are the cultural legacy of Plains Indians and certainly have no cultural legitimacy within the historical culture of Creek Indians. How the BAR could find this indicative of Creek culture is highly suspect and speaks to the influence Poarch leaders possessed at the BIA.
The following letter was written to our tribe when the Poarch were seeking recognition. After receiving federal recognition only three years later during a time before gaming was on the horizon as an option for Indian tribes and when it only took about 50 pages of documents to make it through the process, the Poarch leadership have gone on a three decade spree using prejudicial language against our tribe that would inflame the local, state, and national Black community if they were cognizant of the comments.
June 20, 1981
Mr. Framon Weaver
Mowa Band of Choctaw Indians
P.O. Box 268
McIntosh, AL 36553
RE: Poarch Creek Recognition
Dear Mr. Weaver:
This letter is to formally ask your tribe in the spirit of Indian brotherhood, support our efforts for Federal recognition. As stated previously in my phone conversation with you as Tribal Chairman of the Poarch Band of Creeks. I would request on behalf of my Tribal Council our Executive Director and entire membership that you would send a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. supporting the Poarch Band of Creek’s petition for Federal Recognition. The address is United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Washington D.C. 20245.
We as Native Americans must work together to protect our rights. I assure you that if you assist us with our struggle for Federal Recognition you can count on us to be there when your petition is ready for consideration by BAR.
I hope to see you soon at the Alabama Indian Affairs Commission Meeting. Thank you for your time and support.
Poarch Band of Creek Indians
Eddie L. Tullis, Chairman
Gay V. Drew
Aside from the double talk is the bizarre Poarch Indian blood issue. After claiming to descend from mixed-blood Creek Indians in their federal petition, they then changed all their base ancestors to full-bloods once receiving recognition for the purpose of computing their Indian ancestry and to seem more “authentic” to other tribal communities. So a claimed community made up of whites who intermarried with mixed-blood Creeks, now says that a person must be ¼ Creek to be enrolled. It is a blood fantasy which is their feeble attempt to impress upon Indian Country and Americans that they are somehow “authentic.” It smacks of insecurity and of course further revisionism.
Poarch leader Eddie Tullis went so far as to remark in the Mobile Press-Register a few years back that tribes without gaming are not truly Indian tribes. Indian people don’t dig up their ancestors or equate their identity with casino ownership.
It seems that the “tribal” songs being sung by the Poarch leadership are in time with “the beat of a different drummer”. “Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching.”