Date of Award

Spring 5-21-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

William Boone, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Hashim Gibrill, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

James Jennings, Ph.D.


This case study examined casino gaming by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) in Alabama within the context of tribal sovereignty. It critiqued tribal developments over a five-year period beginning in 2009 with the opening of their first multi-million dollar casino and hotel. No previous studies on gaming or tribal sovereignty for this tribe existed. There were only a few studies on this dual topic for other Indian tribes but none of which utilized a political science theoretical approach.

The study found that tribal sovereignty existed since American Indian tribes existed. Sovereignty was strong during the treaty-making period. Thereafter, tribal authority and self-determination of Indian tribes became limited as it was redefined by federal policies, Congressional actions and Supreme Court decisions.

When treaty-making ended, the political history for Indian tribes became a narrative of termination, relocation and assimilation. The Poarch Band of Cree Indians were a small group that remained poor and obscure after the Indian removal period. Casino gaming has given them an economic and political resurgence. The early legal interpretation of tribes' political status was that of "domestic dependent nations" which continues to influence federal Indian policy today and thus the parameters of tribal sovereignty as well.

While the level of federal dependency for some gaming tribes has been reduced, tribes are not fully self-sufficient. Similar to other industries, casino gaming is impacted by supply, demand and increased competition and thus long-term permanent gains cannot be predicted. For the Poarch Band Creeks, gaming increased their political awareness and led to greater political involvement in lobbying. It also created new community and business partnerships. Gaming also prospered the Poarch Band Creeks not only in terms of improving their quality of life but they now have the financial resources to sustain legal battles to protect their sovereignty from intrusion by the state of Alabama. Alabama was successful in closing all non-Indian casinos but not when it attempted to close Indian casinos. This study highlights the political strategies and sovereignty protections utilized by the Poarch Creek Indians in their response to contemporary political challenges by the state of Alabama.