WETUMPKA, Alabama -- Native American opponents of a new Poarch Creek casino plan a Saturday demonstration to protest the ongoing construction on what they say is sacred tribal ground.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians are building a 20-story hotel and casino on their Wetumpka land, and the plans have drawn opposition from Oklahoma Creeks with ancestral ties to the site. Simultaneous demonstrations are planned Saturday in Oklahoma and in Wetumpka, said a protest organizer
William Bailey, a former Poarch Band tribal council member, is helping to organize the Wetumpka demonstration. Bailey said he became concerned years ago about the development of the Wetumpka site and the excavation of graves there.
"The place they are building was a ceremonial ground and a burial ground," Bailey said.
"The Poarch Creek got it to preserve and they are doing the opposite. They are digging them up," Bailey said.
The demonstration will involve the Idle No More group, an indigenous peoples' rights movement that began in Canada.
Poarch Band spokeswoman Sharon Delmar sent a statement about the demonstration that, "We recognize and respect their First Amendment right to freedom of speech."
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.
The Wetumpka facility will be taller than the Poarch Creek's flagship Wind Creek Casino & Hotel in Atmore, which is 17 stories tall.
The Muscogee say the Wetumpka site, called Hickory Ground, is sacred because it is a burial ground, a ceremonial site and was the last home of their ancestors prior to the tribe's forced removal to Indian Territory in the 1830s.
The Oklahoma Creeks have also filed a federal lawsuit to try to stop the development.
The lawsuit by the Muscogee Nation, claims the Poarch Band acquired the Wetumpka land under the false pretense of preservation, did not have permission from descendants when they excavated graves several years ago and that the ceremonial and burial grounds should be protected under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
Remains were excavated eight years ago and have been reinterred, according to Poarch officials.
"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," Poarch Band Tribal Chairman Buford L. Rolin said in a statement last October. Rolin said at the time that the Alabama and Oklahoma Creeks were at an impasse over the site's future.
Bailey said he did not know how many people would be at the demonstration.