A little more than eleven years ago, the Tribe established the EBCI Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO). Because of the rigorous requirements imposed by the Department of the Interior for THPO certification, this proved to be a landmark achievement, making the EBCI the 23rd tribe in the nation to qualify for THPO status. Today, there are only about 130 such offices out of the 566 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. The EBCI is the only one of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes to have achieved this status and capability.
The Tribal Historic Preservation Office is charged with the task of protecting Cherokee historic, archaeological, and sacred sites both on and off the Qualla Boundary. The primary tool they use in carrying out this mission is federal cultural resource law. It is a difficult task, as these laws only apply to sites on federal lands or sites that would be impacted by a federal project. Those Cherokee sites on private property cannot be protected by these laws, leaving the majority of Cherokee sites beyond the protection of the THPO.
Nevertheless, over the past decade, the EBCI THPO has been able to save numerous Cherokee archaeological sites, recover invaluable data on Cherokee history, and protect countless Cherokee graves. Certainly, the research that the THPO has been able to conduct on the Qualla Boundary has changed archaeological thought concerning the Cherokee occupation of the Oconaluftee Valley, and given Cherokees new insight about their past.
One of the first large-scale projects directed by the THPO was the archaeological excavation at the Ravensford School Site. This was a huge project, with 54 acres opened and explored. That area is more than ten times the average project size. Six thousand years of human history were recovered at Ravensford, with evidence strongly supporting the Cherokee belief that these mountains have always been their home. Evidence of more than 100 structures demonstrated the fact that these mountain rivers were always heavily occupied; and while many potential burials were identified, none were explored or disturbed. This was an amazing project that is still yielding exciting evidence as the analysis of artifacts continues. It was the first archaeological project directed by the Cherokees and turned out to be the largest archaeological project in North Carolina history.
With the construction of new buildings and additions to older facilities on Acquoni Road, the THPO has had several opportunities to explore the prehistoric Cherokee townsite of Nvnvnyi, or the Potato Place. Some minor work was accomplished at the site in the mid-1930s, but subsequent work by the Tribe has shown Nvnvnyi to be the largest prehistoric site on the Oconaluftee River.
This past summer, tribal member Beau Carroll, working for the THPO, helped to lead a field-school for high school students at an archaeological site near Smokemont, located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This project continued important collaborative efforts between the EBCI and NPS, and collected valuable data on a 3000 year span of Cherokees living along the upper reaches of the Oconaluftee River.
On Friday, Sept. 7, the THPO will host the second annual Cherokee Archaeology Day at the Chestnut Tree Inn. The event will begin at 8:15am and will run through 3:00pm with several professional archaeologists presenting throughout the day on topics related to Cherokee archaeology. There will be speakers from Tennessee Valley Authority, Western Carolina University, Warren Wilson College, United States Forest Service, University of Tennessee- Knoxville, and many more. The goal is to provide information on Cherokee archaeological projects both on and off the Qualla Boundary, and to provide education to the community about how Archaeology and Anthropology can teach us more about Cherokee life, culture, and history. This event is open to the public. Please feel free to attend the entire day, or to drop in for presentations you are particularly interested in. You can RSVP for the event by contacting Miranda Panther 554-6850, firstname.lastname@example.org or Yolanda Saunooke 554-6854, email@example.com.
– Miranda Panther, THPO