The following is a press release from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
Atlanta, GA—Today, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation filed the first brief in their appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to proceed with their case holding several federal agencies and a tribal entity accountable for illegal acts that led to the desecration of a Muscogee sacred site.
The case revolves around the Hickory Ground site in Wetumpka, AL which was a sacred ceremonial ground for the Muscogee people and the final capitol of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation before the Tribe’s forced removal to Oklahoma. Because of its significance to both Muscogee and American history, Hickory Ground was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. To this day, it remains one of most sacred sites to the Muscogee people as it is the final resting place for many of Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s most significant political and cultural leaders.
However, a tribal entity obtained ownership of the property under the promise to protect the site and never excavate the Muscogee individuals buried there. Then did precisely the opposite. Federal law requires federal agencies to protect historic sites like Hickory Ground, but the federal agencies responsible for Hickory Ground’s protection allowed the desecration to happen. Through a series of illegal acts, the tribal entity that had acquired the Hickory Ground site dug up and removed the Muscogee (Creek) ancestors buried there and built a casino on the holy site.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation originally filed suit on December 12, 2012, in the United States District Court, Middle District of Alabama. On March 15, 2021, the district court dismissed the Nation’s claims against the United States, the tribal entity responsible for the desecration, and Auburn University.
The Nation believes that the court wrongly dismissed the suit based on a legal doctrine that has been abrogated by a subsequent Supreme Court decision. Accordingly, the Nation is asking the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the lower court decision and allow their case to be heard.
Mekko Thompson, the traditional chief of Hickory Ground and a plaintiff in the litigation,emphasized the significance of the situation stating, “This struggle is not just about the past; it is about the present and the future. This is a universal human struggle. We stand united in our righteous determination to ensure that all sacred sites are respected and preserved. Decency demands it.”
At its core, this case concerns the failure of several federal agencies and officials to abide the duties Congress set out for them in federal statutes—statutes that make clear that historic sites and Native American burials are to be protected and preserved, not destroyed. Equity and good conscience commands that the Nation’s claims against the United States be allowed to proceed.
Hickory Ground’s placement on the National Register of Historic Places pre-dates any relationship or connection any other group could possibly claim to it. As a site on the National Register, Hickory Ground is protected by federal law. If successful, this case will make clear that laws protecting removed Tribes rights to protect sacred sites must be respected and followed.
Principal Chief David Hill reflected the Nation’s commitment to pursuing justice saying, “We fight because it is just to fight. We will not stop until our ancestors have received justice and this sacred site is preserved from any futhur desecration.”