January 17, 2017

UPDATE: Creek protestor freed

WETUMPKA, Ala. – As of Tuesday afternoon, Wayland Gray is a free man.

Gray, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, was arrested Friday afternoon for trespassing and allegedly making a terrorist threat against the Wind Creek Casino and its management. Gray and a group from both the Muscogee (Creek) and Poarch Band of Creek Indians had attempted to pray for their ancestors once buried at the casino construction site, which overlaps with Hickory Ground, a pre-removal burial ground, capitol and sacred site.

Detained over President’s Day weekend in the Elmore County, Ala., jail, Gray was released Tuesday afternoon after Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief George Tiger and other tribal officials traveled to Alabama to negotiate a lower bond. Originally held for a $30,000 cash-only bond, Gray was released for $15,000 late Tuesday afternoon and flew back to Oklahoma with Tiger.

“I came because the families of Wayland Gray and our tribal members felt that this is something the nation needed to do,” Tiger said at a press conference Tuesday in Montgomery, Ala. “I want to be able to take Mr. Gray home this evening to his parents and loved ones. It is our hope that one day our relatives in this state…can work together with us.”          

Brendan Ludwick, attorney for the Hickory Ground Tribal Town, said Gray and the three other men arrested Friday will challenge the arrest under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

Despite the excavation of 57 sets of human remains, Poarch Band officials maintain that the $246 million casino expansion project does not violate any potentially applicable federal laws, including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The land, which has been held in trust since 1984, is part of the Alabama tribe’s reservation and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The casino, along with the tribe’s two other gaming facilities in Montgomery, Ala., and Atmore, Ala., is also the subject of a lawsuit filed Tuesday morning by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. Citing state laws that prohibit slot machine gaming, Strange filed the suit in the Elmore County Circuit Court against the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ gaming authority and the individual members of the gaming authority and tribal council in their official capacity.  The three casinos have a combined 2,500 electronic games.




Creek protestor faces federal charges on alleged terrorist threat


WETUMPKA, Ala. – What started out as a peaceful attempt to pray at a sacred site last week has ended in four arrests – and one charge of allegedly uttering a terrorist threat.

Four men were arrested Feb. 15 for trespassing after trying to lead a prayer service at a controversial casino expansion project.

Along with several citizens of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, members of the Hickory Ground Tribal Town in Oklahoma, part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, traveled to the expansion site of the PBCI’s Wind Creek Casino to conduct a ceremony in honor of their ancestors who were once buried there.  The group had requested the construction be halted a day to allow the group to conduct the prayer ceremony without interruption, but was denied by Poarch Band officials. The four were arrested after they walked onto the casino property.

Hickory Ground Tribal Town members Mike Harjo and Michael Deo, along with a Cherokee man who only publicly identified himself with a nickname, were released from the Elmore County, Ala., jail by 4:30 p.m. Friday.

A fourth protestor, Hickory Ground Tribal Town member Wayland Gray, was detained due to additional allegations from PBCI officials that he made terrorist threats against the facility and its management. He is being held on a $30,000 cash only bond.

Brendan Ludwick, legal counsel for the Tribal Town, told Native Times that Gray’s alleged  threat was something he said while being arrested. According to Ludwick, Gray told officers that ‘he would be back to pray for his ancestors after this place (the casino) was torn down,’ referring to a federal lawsuit filed in December against the tribe to halt construction at the site.

The charge of a making a terrorist threat is a felony. The earliest Gray can expect an arraignment hearing is Tuesday, Feb. 19.

“The Poarch Band of Creek Indians is using post 9/11 hysteria to deprive my client of his First Amendment Right to free speech and religious expression,” Ludwick said.

The group was also turned away from the property the day before by tribal police officers and a representative from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“It is mind-boggling that they are alleging these charges against someone who was praying for his excavated ancestors at a ceremonial ground,” Ludwick said. “They are attempting to use their influence over the local government to punish Wayland, but they are only going to bring greater awareness to the sacred lands and religious freedom issues there.

The casino construction project has come under fire from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, along with traditionalists in Alabama, for its potential desecration of a pre-removal sacred site and burial ground. A federal lawsuit to stop the $246 million expansion is pending in the Middle District of Alabama.

The plaintiffs claim that 57 sets of human remains of their ancestors were excavated from Hickory Ground in violation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

Ludwick said any charges filed against the four men would be challenged under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

A representative for the PBCI said they could not suspend the construction or allow the group onto the site due to safety issues and the ongoing litigation.

An online campaign is actively trying to raise money for Gray’s bond. For more information see www.facebook.com/SaveHickoryGround or the Free Wayland Gray campaign on indiegogo at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/339539/x/1002311?show_todos=true

Wayland Gray, seen here in this Feb. 9 file photo, is being held on a $30 thousand cash only bond in the Elmore County, Ala., jail on alleged terrorist threat charges.