By Oce Vpofa Mekko George Thompson
My name is George Thompson; I have been the Oce Vpofa Mekko (Hickory Ground Chief) for 42 plus years. This is a lifetime position and it will be until the day I die. It is not our character as Muscogee (Creek) people to express our customs, rituals and traditions to those outside. Things that have been passed down decades and decades stay deep within. So it is a rarity that I come to you to express myself. But I feel strongly about the subject at hand and I come to you with a heavy heart.
The Mekkos before me were lifetime positions as well. It was only four chiefs ago that our people sat at our traditional ceremonial grounds in Wetumpka, Oce Vpofa (Hickory Ground) Alabama. This was the beginning of our people and our traditional home. We are not rich in money, but we are rich in our knowledge and the language of who we truly are as Muscogee (Creek) citizens of Hickory Ground here in Oklahoma. These chiefs that came before me sat in their arbors, surrounding the fire, and taking medicine and participating in sacred ceremonies in Wetumpka, Alabama.
Today, this sacred ceremonial ground and burial site have been disturbed and is a parking lot and hotel casino for the Poarch Band of Creeks in Alabama. In the process of building this casino expansion, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians dug up seven chiefs and 56 remains. This truly makes me sad.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians claims that they are lineal (direct) descendants of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians gained federal recognition as a Tribe by using this lineage to validate their claims as Indian people. When the United States government gave them federal recognition, they also gave them the Hickory Ground land in Wetumpka, Alabama as part of their reservation land.
The Poarch Band Creeks’ claim in the 1980′s that this property to be included in their reservation was valuable and that the Hickory Ground Creek people in Oklahoma would be pleased to know that their ancestral homeland in Alabama was being preserved. As Mekko of Hickory Ground in Oklahoma, if building a multimillion-dollar casino on top of our ceremonial grounds is the Poarch Band’s way of preserving our ancestral home, then I don’t want it to be preserved their way. My way of preserving this land is by leaving it alone and putting it back to its natural state. We are not opposed to the Poarch Band casino, or their parking lot. We are opposed to where it is being built.
I ask you to stand with us in stopping the destruction of our burial sites and sacred ceremonial ground. We do not want them to build on top of our people. They are digging up the last known cultural capital of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. This was our land until the United States government forced us to relocate to Oklahoma during the death marches in the 1830′s, or what is more commonly known as The Trail of Tears. During the Trail of Tears, we lost thousands of our people along the way, but our people survived, and our fires kept burning and our ceremonies and traditional lifestyle stayed alive. I believe that the tears that ran down our face during this march was because we left our ceremonial grounds and our dead behind. We worried what would happen to them and would we ever be able to return to our ancestral lands. Little did we know at that time, that some 180 plus years later that our “brothers”, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, would dig up our dead for financial gain. The Hickory Ground people of Oklahoma have a new reason for tears to flow down our faces.
When the Poarch Band of Creeks became federally recognized, they promised to protect the historic and sacred Hickory Ground site. The Poarch Band of Creeks offered to build a “Memorial Garden and Interpretive Center” to honor Hickory Ground and the estimated 60 remains they had already dug up. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma did not agree with this plan. We do not publicize our dances or sell our medicine. We don’t invite outsiders into our traditions so that our ways become a novelty that can be sold in a gift shop. Our tradition and our ancestors are not a tourist attraction.
We do not know of any Nation or group of people that condone digging up their relatives for financial gain. There is no custom or tradition that I am aware of where this would be acceptable. As the Oce Vpofa Mekko, I fight for our people because I have to face them someday when I die and I will have to explain to them how hard I fought to preserve their final resting place. When my spirit comes to face them, I do not want my spirit to walk through your casino to greet them.
To all the agencies, the men, women and children of all Nations, saying thank you for supporting this cause will never be enough. There are no words to express my feelings for your support in preserving this sacred site and burial ground. But for now, this is all that I can offer. To my people of Oce Vpofa (Hickory Ground), I will fight to protect our ancestors until the day I die, for I will have to see the traditional people of my sacred homeland one day.
I send this plea to all Indian Nations, all Nations of color and Nations throughout the world to stand with the Oce Vpofa (Hickory Ground) people and stop the Poarch Band of Creeks from further desecrating our sacred lands and implore them to return our ancestors and their burial objects, and our cultural items where they were taken from.
In closing, I would especially like to thank the people of Muscogee (Creek) Nation for keeping our ceremonies alive and well. Not only are we closing ceremonies for the winter with medicine now, but also with the “LITTLE BROTHER OF WAR.”
Mvto (Thank You)
* Mekko means “King” or commonly referred to as Chief. This position is a traditional Chief as opposed to the modern day Chief.
* Oce Vpofa Mekko = o-je | uh-bo-vuh | me-ko
For more information please visit SaveHickoryGround.org.
Re-printed with permission.