By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
FRANKLIN – Macon County residents packed the Franklin Town Hall on the evening of Monday, April 1 to voice their opinions on the proposed transfer of the deed of the Nikwasi Mound to the non-profit organization Nikwasi Initiative. A total of 19 people spoke on the subject that originated after the Franklin Town Council voted to move forward with drawing up the new deed during their March meeting.
The Nikwasi Mound is a site sacred to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, being listed there as Nequasee.
Gloria Raby Owenby, Macon County Historical Society former president, is one of five Macon County residents who have filed a complaint and injunction against any action transferring the mound’s deed. During Monday’s meeting, she noted, “I feel very strongly in honoring the deed. The language clearly states that the Nikwasi Mound belongs to all citizens. I will not waver to protect it for generations to come. The Town has been a good steward. The mound is basically the same as it was for 73 years.”
Betty Cloer Wallace, one of the five Macon County plaintiffs, said, “Regarding the 1946 Deed of Trust, and in regard to ownership of the Nikwasi Mound, the historic chain of deeds for the mound has been totally ignored by proponents trying to transfer it from Franklin town government oversight into private ownership.”
She added, “The entire marketing effort for the fledgling and questionable Nikwasi Initiative has been based on (1) ambiguous notions about cultural and racial reparations and restitution, and (2) improving private properties outside the perimeter of the mound – neither of which has anything to do with the deed or ownership of the mound itself. It would take an extremely willing suspension of belief for anyone who has ever read the 1946 Deed of Trust to argue that the purpose and intent of the deed means anything other than for the Franklin Town Council to have and to hold the deed to the mound on behalf of the citizens of Macon County for posterity, forevermore.”
The deed, signed and enacted on Oct. 7, 1946, states in part, “The mound situated upon the property above described shall be preserved for the citizens of Macon County and for posterity, and the same shall be kept as it now stands and shall not be excavated, explored, altered, or impaired in any way or used for any commercial purpose, and shall be kept as a monument to the early history of Macon County…”
The site is referred to in the deed as Nequassi Indian Village mound.
Edgar Burton “Bud” Shope, one of the Macon County plaintiffs, said, “One thing that I would like to bring to the attention of all people, although the deed is made out to the Town of Franklin it was all citizens of Macon County that tried to raise the amount that was paid for the mound. I do not mean to make any enemies. The past is not a place we need to go to, but we should remember what values our forefathers brought, and I think that we should honor the deed.”
Many people in favor of keeping the deed with the Town of Franklin carried signs during Monday’s meeting that read “Honor the Original Deed”.
“Thank you for doing your best and representing all us here now and those of the future who may not know any of our names, but will certainly know the decision,” said Fred Alexander, a Macon County resident. “I believe you have sufficient facts, opinions, and legal counsel. So, all I can add is a wish. My wish is that the future of this ancient mound will be determined by hopes, not fears, and that we will embrace the friendship and common heritage, and not a kind of cultural isolation. Thus, our respect for the past will be displayed in our vision for the future.”
Mark West, speaking on behalf of the Macon County Folk Heritage Association, said the organization is in favor of transferring the deed to the Nikwasi Initiative. “Taking this action would ensure we’ve passed on a vital piece of mountain heritage as well increasing economic opportunities in the Town of Franklin and Macon County. We are very pleased to gain new partners to honor the mound. Not only do we feel this partnership will protect Franklin’s oldest man-made structure and part of our mountain heritage, but it is the right thing to do for future generations.”
Bob McCollum, Cowee Arts & Heritage Center board member and a member of the Nikwasi Initiative, spoke of the importance of the mound to Cherokee culture. “One of the reasons for doing this is to put the mound in the hands of an independent third-party to simply hold onto the deed. The mound is not going anywhere. Nothing is going to happen on that mound. All that we are trying to do is to offer our friends, our neighbors, our partners an equal voice in the stewardship of the mound as we go forward.”
He went on to state, “In 1946, that was not an end point. That was a starting point. What we have the opportunity to do here now is to finish saving the mound.”
Juanita Wilson, an EBCI tribal member and co-chair of the Nikwasi Initiative, said, “We are all united in one main thing, one very critical thing. We all love Nikwasi. We all want the best for it.”
She said that the mound was saved before by the citizens of Macon County and that the transfer would put the mound under the responsibility of the Nikwasi Initiative which is comprised mostly of Macon County citizens. ‘We’re neighbors. We’re partners – people who all love this mound. I want to commend all of you for having that vision…we want to share it with you. We want to move forward with you into the future and we want to heal – we want to be one.”
Wilson previously told the One Feather that the deed transfer “will be a joint ownership between the Town of Franklin, Macon County, and the EBCI through legal language in the transfer of the deed to the Nikwasi Initiative” and noted that their organization would report regularly to the three entities on their work as well as seek input from each.
Cory McCall, a resident of Macon County and a local business owner, said the area surrounding the mound needs some improvement. “I feel like the Nikwasi Initiative and the idea that was set forth with the potential of a museum and being able to utilize that area; I think it is a great thing.”
He then noted, “Looking at the mound, is it a possessive thing that we have to keep it? Or, is it an opportunity for us to open our hand and to lead by being able to extend a hand and be able to work with the Nikwasi Initiative and each individual that is involved in that?”
Following public comment, the Franklin Town Council went into a closed session with Town Attorney John Henning to discuss the litigation against them regarding the proposed deed transfer. After coming out of closed session, the Town Council members discussed the issue briefly, but no action was taken on the deed.
Russell Townsend, EBCI tribal historic preservation officer, gave the One Feather a brief historical account of the site previously stating, “Nikwasi Mound is a Mississippian 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.”