By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Tribal Council approved legislation during its Budget Council session on Tuesday, Aug. 1 for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to purchase a 0.59 acre tract of land that sits adjacent to the historic and culturally-significant Nikwasi Mound in Franklin. Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed made the legislation, which approves the purchase price of $400,000 from Mainspring Conservation Trust, Inc., a non-profit organization, official by ratifying it in his office on Wednesday, Aug. 9.
“We’re here this morning to ratify the resolution to purchase the adjoining property to Nikwasi,” Chief Sneed told the group assembled for the signing which included tribal, Mainspring, and Franklin officials. “This is an opportunity for the Eastern Band, in partnering with Mainspring Conservation and Macon County and the Town of Franklin, for the Eastern Band to acquire cultural and historic lands that were our aboriginal homelands. The long-term plan is to create a cultural corridor that preserves and protects historic sites for the Eastern Band, and this is just one more step in a long process that will continue until all of our lands that are important to us are protected and preserved.”
According to the legislation which was signed on Wednesday, “…the land and improvements purchased by the Tribe shall be used to preserve the significant historical and cultural value of said lands, promote awareness and education of Cherokee history and culture, and be explored for potential economic development and/or cultural preservation activities.”
In the same legislation, Tribal Council authorized $100,000 be used from Endowment Fund No. 2 “for the purpose of assessing the highest and best use of the land and improvements for cultural preservation and economic development opportunities.”
Chief Sneed went on to say, “I’d like to thank everyone from the Town of Franklin, Mainspring Conservation, our Environmental and Natural Resources office, and I’d like to specifically thank Juanita Wilson for all of her hard work on this. And, for everyone who’s had a part. I’d like to thank Tribal Council for stepping up and appropriating the funds to purchase this property demonstrating their commitment to preserving and protecting our historical landmarks.”
Tribal Council Chairman Bill Taylor said, “This is a long time coming. As tribal leaders, we always talk about how we want to protect and preserve our culture and tradition, and what better way to protect and preserve one of our historical sites and something that is real dear and close to us; actually bringing back all of our mounds where our forefathers and our ancestors are buried. By us doing that, we’re able to protect and preserve our culture and actually be able to take care of them and give them the respect and dignity that they deserve.”
He added, “We’ve never looked at getting a mound back as a revenue-generator or a profit source, it was just to bring it back into the Tribe’s control. That way we’d be able to maintain it, take care of it, and give it the respect that it deserves. We’re more or less just making an educational place for the public…this just puts us one step closer to one day actually getting the mound itself back. I think we’ve gotten a good, working relationship with Macon County and starting to grow that relationship, and today is a big step in that process of maybe being able to bring the mound back into the possession of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.”
Sharon Taylor, Mainspring Conservation Trust executive director, commented, “This is a really exciting day because part of the mission of Mainspring Conservation Trust is to conserve the heritage of this area. We cover six counties in western North Carolina so this is a hugely significant day for us because we worked with the Tribe for well over a decade to try to conserve some of their most sacred cultural sites. But, just to increase the prominence of Nikwasi Mound and the acquisition of this building next door to Nikwasi Mound, we think it is really significant and will bring much more prominence to that sacred site for the Cherokee people.”
In describing the purchase site, she noted the 0.59-acre site includes an empty building that was once Dan’s Auto. “We hope that’s going to be transformed into a building that will bring much more prominence to the cultural significance of the area.”
Sharon Taylor stated that Mainspring Conservation Trust started an initiative several years ago called Mountain Partners. “That was to bring reconciliation between the Tribe and the Town of Franklin and Macon County; just so we could get to this point today. So this day really is significant to bring those partnerships together. So, it really isn’t important who owns the Mound, just so the Mound is honored in the way that it needs to be honored and today is a big step towards that.”
Russell Townsend, EBCI tribal historic preservation officer, gives a brief historical account of the site. “Nikwasi Mound is a Mississipian period mound that is likely 800 to 900 years old. It was built by ancestors of modern Cherokee people, and several ancient Cherokee stories are associated with it. The best known story is that of the ‘spirit warriors’ who come from inside the mound to protect the community in time of need. It is said that happened in pre-Colonial times as well as during the American Civil War.”
Townsend noted there are 25 archaeologically-known mounds throughout western North Carolina. Of those 25, he said the Tribe owns five including: Kituwah, Cowee, Nvnvyi, Birdtown, and Talulah.
Nikwasi Mound was put on the National Register of Historic Places on Nov. 26, 1980. It is listed in the Register as Nequasee.