By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The House of Representatives has passed legislation that would put 76 acres in east Tennessee, containing several historic sites to the Tribe, into trust for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Historic Lands Reacquisition Act (H.R. 453), introduced by Rep. Charles J. Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) on Jan. 10, 2019, passed the House on Dec. 16, 2019.
“For the second year in a row, the House agreed to a widespread bipartisan fashion to maintain a commitment to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians by placing specified lands and easements in Monroe County, Tenn., into a trust for the use and benefit of the Tribe,” Rep. Fleischmann said in a statement on Dec. 16, 2019. “The Cherokee Nation has a rich history in the Third District, and I am grateful to be engaged in the process to safeguard the story of the Eastern Band in the Cherokee towns of Tanasi and Chota.”
He added, “I strongly believe this preservation of lands will allow succeeding generations to comprehend and acknowledge the impact that the Cherokee Nation has had on east Tennessee.”
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 said in a statement following the bill’s passage in the House, “This bill reunites the Eastern Band of Cherokee with our homelands in east Tennessee. We look forward to a renewed and prosperous relationship with Tennessee.”
An identical bill (H.R. 146) was introduced on Jan. 3, 2017 by Rep. Fleischmann. That bill too was passed by the House but never came to the Senate floor for a vote. Chief Sneed testified on that bill in front of the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs on Oct. 4, 2017.
“These properties commemorate and interpret historic people like Sequoyah, towns such as the historic Cherokee capital at Chota, and the culture of the Cherokee during the period from the early 1700s through 1840, and are also associated with and interpret the Trail of Tears,” he then noted. “The properties are located in Monroe County, Tenn., near the town of Vonore and are adjacent to Tellico Lake, the reservoir behind TVA’s Tellico Dam. This bill celebrates not only a time in Cherokee history when we lived in Tennessee but also the return of the Cherokee people – as a modern, living people with a living culture and language, and traditions that have survived from ancient times – back to Tennessee.”
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.”