By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is now one step closer to regaining 76 acres, containing several historic sites, in eastern Tennessee. The Eastern Band Cherokee Historic Lands Reacquisition Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday, April 16 by a roll call vote of 383-2.
The Act was introduced by Rep. Charles J. Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) on Jan. 3, 2017, the first day of the 115th Congress. Following passage by the House on Monday, he said in a statement, “Tonight, the House voted to keep a promise to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians by rightfully returning 76 acres of sacred land in Monroe County (Tenn.), putting the land back in tribal hands. The Cherokee have a rich heritage in the Third District, and I am thankful to have played a part to ensure the story of the Eastern Band is preserved in the Cherokee towns of Chota and Tanasi, and allow our future generations to understand and appreciate the heritage of the Eastern Band in East Tennessee.”
He went on to state, “In fact, the history of Tennessee cannot be told without mentioning Tanasi, the origin of the name of our great state. I thank Principal Chief Sneed for his support and advocacy in getting this legislation to where it is today.”
Prior to coming to the House floor, the bill was marked up and reported favorably by a unanimous vote of the House Committee on Natural Resources on Jan. 17, 2018.
According to the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs, “The bill would place approximately 76 acres of Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) land in Monroe County, Tenn., on the shores of Little Tennessee River/Tellico Reservoir into trust for the benefit of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Additionally, the bill places two permanent easements over TVA land to be held in trust.”
The 76 acres includes approximately 46 acres at the site of the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, around 18.2 acres which includes the Chota Memorial and the Tanasi Memorial, and another 11.2 acres known as “support parcel”. Also included in the bill are permanent easements for the Chota Peninsula, which includes 8.5 acres and the Chota-Tanasi Trail which has 11.4 acres.
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, who testified on the bill last October, said in a statement on Monday evening, “We are one step closer to completing reacquisition of historical Cherokee lands in east Tennessee. These lands are culturally and historically important to all Cherokee people. The protection of Cherokee historic sites is critical to understanding our shared history. Congressman Fleischmann and the people of east Tennessee have been remarkably hospitable to us, and we look forward to new investments in east Tennessee when the bill is enacted into law.”
The Chota Memorial includes a full-scale representation of the Council House and sits in the spot of the original structure at Chota. The Tanasi Memorial, built by the TVA and the Tennessee Historical Commission in 1989, contains a monument with an inscription that states in part, “The site of the former town of Tanasi, now underwater, is located about 300 yards west of this marker.”
Charlie Rhodharmer, Sequoyah Birthplace Museum director, noted the importance of the area, “Tanasi was the first Cherokee capital in what is now this area of east Tennessee. It was set up by Moytoy of Tellico in the late 1720s/1730s. Moytoy was the first ‘emperor’ (spokesman) of the Cherokee. By 1753, Chota had become the mother town of the Overhill. During the 18th century, Chota was the political and cultural capital of the Cherokee Nation. It was known as a peace town.”
He added, “Chota was the longest existing Cherokee capital in the east before the Removal. Chota is center stage for Lt. Henry Timberlake’s visit. Timberlake wrote his memoirs of his visit to the Cherokee Overhill, which gives us an incredible insight into Cherokee life and culture in the mid-18th century. By 1788, the Cherokee had moved their capital south to Georgia.”
Two local leaders in east Tennessee expressed their support of the bill earlier this year by writing a letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). In the letter, Monroe County Mayor Tim Yates and Loudon County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw state, “We believe it is most appropriate for you to sponsor a Senate resolution since the lands involved in the reacquisition are in Tennessee and job growth from the lands will be Tennessee jobs. TVA has voiced no opposition to this action and will be compensated for any lost hydropower from future development of the lands.”
The bill now has seven co-sponsors including Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who has worked with the Tribe on many issues, as well as Rep. Paul Cook (R-Calif.), Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-NC), Rep. David Roe (R-Tenn.), Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), and Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC).