By David Pendered
A potentially messy battle over Georgia’s road projects could unfold if the Muscogee (Creek) Nation pushes hard over its concerns that artifacts of ancestors could be paved over by state road projects.
The MCN National Council is considering legislation to ask Gov. Nathan Deal to veto Senate Bill 346, which the Legislature passed this year.
The Council likely won’t get its bill approved before Deal signs the bill, as he’s expected to do. The next step would be for the MCN to ask the federal government to extend its oversight over archeological matters related to road projects, according to a report in mvskokemedia.com.
“There may be the need for another [tribal resolution] statement that would be directed to Federal Highways and the Federal Department of Transportation and they would begin monitoring Georgia and there may be enough pressure that would come from withholding the federal dollars that would cause them rescind that kind of law,” former MCN Cultural Preservation Manager Alen Cook is quoted in the story.
The tribe views the entire state of Georgia as a place where unknown artifacts could exist, and inadvertently be disrupted by roadwork projects. Following the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Muscogee leaders traded their remaining land in Georgia in exchange for land in Oklahoma.
SB 346 was introduced by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta). Beach said he intended the bill to reduce costs and paperwork for road projects valued at less than $100 million.
SB 346 responded to the large number of road projects that Georgia will build without federal funds. Georgia is in the process of revising its project lists to shift construction projects to state funding, and maintenance to federal funding. The entire shift is the result of last year’s legislation that aimed to generate more taxes for road construction.
The shift startled Georgia’s archeology community. Advocates said federal regulations about archeology and cultural heritage won’t apply to the state-funded projects. Consequently, sites and artifacts are endangered.
The Society for Georgia Archaeology and Georgia Council of Professional Archaeologists prevailed upon the House Transportation Committee to amend the bill. Both the House and Senate approved the amended version.
The amendment requires an environmental evaluation to be considered in projects of this size when it is probably to expect significant adverse impact on historical sites or buildings and cultural resources, according to a synopsis by the American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia.
Evidently, the MCN doesn’t think the amendment provides adequate protection to their ancestral lands.
MCN National Council Member Thomas Yaholo introduced the legislation that asks Deal to veto SB 346.
Yaholo is a former speaker of the National Council and now serves on the Land, Natural Resources & Cultural Preservation Committee. The committee unanimously approved Tribal Resolution 16-063 at its April 11 meeting, according to a report in mvskokemedia.com.
The next steps are for TR 16-063 to be considered April 26 by the Council planning session, and on to consideration by the full Council at its April 30 meeting.
This is the style of the bill:
- “A tribal resolution of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation requesting the governor of the state of Georgia to act to veto proposed transportation legislation that would create undue potential adversely impact Muscogee (Creek) historical/environmental preservation interests in Georgia.”