(updated Tuesday, Feb. 9 with a quote from Chief George Wickliffe of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians)
By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Kituwah, the Mother Town of the Cherokee, is in danger according to many tribal members who are opposing the construction of a Duke Energy Substation near the site. Tribal Council passed a resolution during their regular session on Thursday, Feb. 4 denouncing the construction plans.
“Kituwah is the most important sacred site to the Cherokee people, and it is amazing that it remains intact into the 21st Century,” said Principal Chief Michell Hicks who submitted the resolution. “We purchased the site for the sole purpose of ensuring protection for future generations of Cherokees and it is our responsibility, as a Nation, to continue that work. We have a positive relationship with Duke Energy and with Swain County and I feel confident we can reach an amicable solution once we have an opportunity to formally consult with Duke Energy on this important matter.”
Paige Layne, Duke spokesperson, commented on Monday, Feb. 8, “We have a long standing and good working relationship with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and I think it’s built on mutual respect. Ultimately, we want to work with the Tribe to expand our energy offerings to them in a way that is culturally sensitive.”
The resolution passed by Tribal Council on Thursday states, “It is this Tribe’s solemn responsibility and moral duty to care for and protect all of Kituwah from further desecration and degradation by human agency in order to preserve the integrity of the most important site for the origination and continuation of Cherokee culture, heritage, history and identity.”
It directs both the EBCI Attorney General’s Office and the EBCI Tribal Historic Preservation Office “to pursue remedies to this situation, on behalf of the Tribe, in front of the State Public Utilities Commission and by any informal means where an acceptable resolution can be reached.”
Russell Townsend, EBCI Tribal Historical Preservation Office, told Tribal Council, “They (Duke Energy) claim to be a good neighbor to the Tribe, and this is a clear indication of where they let us down and appear to have violated some state laws. This is our most important site. We’re only ever going to have one Kituwah.”
Big Cove Elder Walker Calhoun commented, “I’m for preserving that place where they’re trying to build that tower. I’m 100% for preserving it.”
Vice Chief Larry Blythe said, “We need to send a strong message to Duke Energy that we’re here and we deserve respect.” He said there should have been public consultation meetings on this issue.
Hannah Smith, EBCI legal counsel, addressed Tribal Council on Thursday as simply a concerned tribal member. “Cherokee people, all over the world, originated here. To Cherokee people, it’s not just about beauty and viewshed; those mountains have meaning.”
She also said it appears Duke has not followed state law. “If they had followed the law, we wouldn’t be here in this state of emergency so to speak.”
Her sister, Natalie Smith, also spoke on Thursday and related, “You all have ties to Kituwah. Kituwah is not just dirt that resides in our property line. Kituwah is in a relationship with its surroundings.”
She further stated, “The mountains they have been dozing, under our nose, is part of Kituwah…this is a shame. They’re shaming our soul by doing this, and we can’t allow them.”
Tom Belt, a member of the Cherokee Nation and fluent Cherokee speaker, has lived in Cherokee for 19 years. “The Kituwah site is one of the most profound and sacred things that is in the possession of our people at this time. It is one of the most sacred things that we have. We have nothing else that we can say, to our knowledge, that more identifies us, as a people whole, than this particular site.”
Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Diamond Brown, Jr. said everyone should think of the sacred Black Hills in South Dakota being defaced with the construction of Mount Rushmore. “I’ve been on the front lines, and I’m not afraid to stand up for our people. Think about this and use this as an example.”
In an email to Fred Alexander, a Duke Energy official, on Monday, Feb. 8, Cara Cowan Watts, deputy speaker of the Cherokee Nation (OK) Tribal Council wrote, “Both the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians should be consulted before any work is done near the Mother Town of Kituwah. Please consider putting your plans on pause to see what workable solutions can be reached to prevent negative impact on such a culturally-significant site as Kituwah.”
Chief George Wickliffe, of the Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (OK), said Kituwah is “like the Garden of Eden to the Christian.” On behalf of his Tribe he stated, “The United Keetoowah band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma is strongly and adamantly against the construction of any such power facility near Kituwah, or in it’s view shed for not only historic, but cultural and religious reasons. We demand that Duke Energy comply with all Federal laws and reuqirements which pertain to this project, as well as any other project in the future on land which was originally owned by and inhabited by the Cherokee people.
He continued, “We ask for Duke Energy to cease any work proceeding at the moment, and to comply with each requirement…”