Last Real Indians

Sacred Sites Worth the Fight. -Sheena Louise Roetman

In Wetumpka, Ala., a Muscogee burial ground called Hickory Ground, or Oce Vpofv, is being illegally desecrated with excavation and development. Although this land is protected by the National Register of Historic Places, Archeological Resources Protection Act and under the rights of lineal descendents portion of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, it is none-the-less being turned into a casino parking lot.

Unfortunately, this scenario is nothing new to those of us not living under a rock in Indian country. What is unique, however, is the fact that this is being done by a group of fellow Natives. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians obtained the parcel of land in 1984, the same year they gained federal status, from the state of Alabama, even though they have no ties to the land, under the condition that they preserve it.

Since 1991, however, the PBCI tribal council has unanimously voted in support of this desecration in order to erect a casino. Hickory Ground is currently under a parking garage, and in April 2012 the council announced a $246 million expansion to the existing structures.  More than 50 sets of remains and funerary items have been removed from the site, with no consultation with or consent from Muscogee members.

According to William Bailey, a former member of the PBCI council who resigned due to corrupt council leadership, the PBCI council justified the desecration by saying that the remains being removed were animal bones. Bailey maintains that the council was well aware of what they were doing, however, because the council appointed him to ensure the remains wouldn’t be removed from the tin sheds they had been temporarily placed in.

In December 2012, the Muscogee Nation filed a federal lawsuit to stop the excavation and desecration.  Then, at the end of February, PBCI officials arrested Wayland Gray, a Muscogee man who was attempting to pray at Hickory Ground, on charges of terrorism. In a video released of the arrest (, Gray clearly says, “We will be back. When this casino is down, we will be back.” This statement is allegedly the basis for the PBCI police officers’ charge of “terrorism.

Of course, it should be made very clear that not all members of the PBCI agree with what is being done. This is clearly an issue of corrupt leadership and council, and an issue that we see all too often in Indian country. And this case is even worse, because it’s one tribe against another. In-fighting, or standing against each other, is the best possible thing we could do if we want to seal our own fates and solidify the genocide that colonialism has been throwing at us for more than 500 years.

The Hickory Ground case is about so much more than “just” Hickory Ground – it is about all land, all Indians, all sacred things. As we are taught, not one thing (piece of land, person, animal) is greater or more important than another. The PBCI council is clearly corrupt. We need modern day warriors to stand up and demand that these so-called leaders and their culture of bullying and greediness be removed from leadership positions at once – not just from PBCI but from all tribal governments. We cannot hope to move forward and create a better world for our children if we continue to stand by and allow assimilated minds to make decisions for our people. We say we are Idle No More when it comes to national governments, but are we Idle No More when it comes to our tribal governments as well? We must start from within in order to grow.

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