Byline: Braden Harper/Reporter
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma – The Muscogee (Creek) Nation hosted the third annual Sacred Honor Walk to protect sacred places on June 21 at the Claude Cox Omniplex pavilion. The event was sponsored by the MCN Historic and Cultural Preservation, Behavior Health Sciences, and Oce Vpofv Etvlwv.
Although the event focused on protecting all sacred places, Oce Vpofv (Hickory Ground) served as the event’s main topic. Principal Chief David Hill, Second Chief Del Beaver, Mekko George Thompson, Ambassador Jonodev Chaudhuri and Raelynn Butler were among the featured speakers.
The event occurred during the summer solstice, National World Peace and Prayer Day. According to Butler, many other indigenous communities observed the day to protect sites considered culturally, spiritually, or religiously sacred.
“It takes everybody, it takes leadership knowing the laws, having good relationships with our local city, county, state governments to work together to protect these places,” Butler said. “Cemeteries, burial sites, mounds sites, tribal town sites, our churches, battlefield sites where so many had lost their lives, those are sacred places to us.”
Oce Vpofv, Hickory Ground Alabama has spiritual roots in Muscogee History and Culture. It is located in the original homelands and stood as the last capital of the MCN before the Great Removal in the 1830s.
After forced removal, some Natives renounced their tribal citizenship and remained in Alabama. During the 1950s, the descendants of Muscogee (Creek) Native Americans who remained East of the Mississippi began to organize their own tribes. They would eventually form what is known today as the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
During the 1980s, Hickory Ground was purchased by the Poarch Band Indians through a federal preservation grant. Federal recognition was granted to the tribe in 1984.
During the 2000s, Poarch Band started a mass excavation of Hickory Ground, desecrating at least 57 Muscogee (Creek) graves in the process. The excavation made way for Poarch Band’s Wind Creek Casino.
To stop the mass excavation, the MCN sued the Poarch Band Tribe. The lawsuit was paused in 2017, then renewed in 2019. Most recently, it was dismissed out of court by a federal judge in 2021. The case was dismissed based on sovereign immunity.
Muscogee Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo produced a documentary on the Hickory Ground Controversy, “Back to Nature: The Battle for Hickory Ground.” The documentary was produced in 2012 and focused on the then-new Wetumpka Casino Development.
The issue of desecration of sacred places is not exclusive to the MCN. The Sacred Walk’s purpose not only brought awareness to Hickory Grounds but also aimed to prevent the desecration of other sacred grounds.
“Desecration has hurt everybody in the Muscogee Nation,” Butler said. “We work hard to ensure that nothing like this will ever happen again.”
The event gave out free T-Shirts bearing the image of Muscogee Leader Chitto Harjo. Tribal leaders made a point to recognize Harjo’s personal roots in Hickory Grounds and his efforts in preserving tribal sovereignty.
Butler said she was grateful to see MCN leadership and community members unite to support protecting sacred places.
“We have to stay together on the fight on what’s really important,” Chief Hill said.
Butler has been to Hickory Grounds in Alabama herself and has seen firsthand what has become of it today.
“In the homelands, it’s very sad to see where Hickory Ground used to be because it’s been developed. It’s hard to see and imagine what it must have looked like.” Butler said. “Everything around there is beautiful.”
Although the Wetumpka Casino still stands on the sacred ground today, Butler said it’s our responsibility to pass down the lesson of Hickory Ground.
“It’s our job to ensure that the next generation also takes care and that they understand and learn. We all have a role in this.”
To learn more watch the “Back to Nature: The Battle for Hickory Ground” Documentary by Sterlin Harjo. To see Mvskoke Media’s prior coverage of the Sacred Ground Honor Walk click here.