Auburn University was named as one of the defendants in a lawsuit refiled on Wednesday, alleging the construction of a casino and hotel in Wetumpka, Alabama, desecrated sacred burial grounds and removed cultural artifacts.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation refiled the case on Wednesday against Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the owner of the casino and hotel.
The complaint alleges the construction of the Poarch's Wetumpka casino desecrated land known as Hickory Ground, the last tribal capital of the Muscogee nation before its people were forced to relocate to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears in the 1830s.
Initially filed in 2012, the lawsuit was expanded when it was refiled Wednesday in the U.S. federal district court in the middle district of Alabama. The suit had been put on hold as the two sides in the case tried to reach a settlement, but no settlement was reached.
The lawsuit alleges archaeologists affiliated with Auburn excavated cultural artifacts from the site, and Auburn still has possession of some of the artifacts.
Several governmental agencies and an Atmore, Alabama, based construction company were also listed as defendants in the case.
Muscogee Nation demanded in the lawsuit that the land known as Hickory Ground be returned to its condition prior to the construction of the casino.
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"The remains and cultural objects must be put back at peace in the original resting ground," said Mekko George Thompson, who has served as the traditional chief of the Hickory Ground Tribal Town for more than four decades. "Our ancestors remains have been wrenched from their final resting places and removed. We're not opposed to development, but a burial ground is no place for a casino."
Auburn is included as a defendant in the case because the artifacts excavated would have to be returned if Muscogee were to win the case, said Lauren King, the attorney representing Muscogee Nation.
Poarch acquired the land in 1980 with a federally funded historic preservation grant. The grant came with a 20-year protected covenant, which expired in 2000.
The lawsuit says Poarch began the construction of the casino without notifying Muscogee Nation, removing 57 grave sites.
The casino and hotel opened in 2013. Poarch owns multiple casinos throughout the state.
Auburn's Office of Communication and Marketing have not responded to questions sent late Thursday by The Plainsman, but this story will be updated when they do.
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