By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
Tribal Council approved the purchase of 32.28 acres in Graham County for the price of $1,300,000 during a session of Council on Monday, Sept. 20. While no specific plans for the site were approved in the legislation (Res. No. 609 – 2021) on Monday, a proposal to construct a new Junaluska Museum with cultural interpretative kiosks as well as a facility to house Cherokee language programming was deemed a “priority” in an amendment passed within the legislation. The land is located at 774 Tapoco Rd. in Robbinsville.
“This was passed by Lands Acquisition based solely on the investment value of the property,” Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed said at the beginning of the discussion on the issue. “There have been multiple discussions on potential use…there’s a great deal of opportunity.”
He said that in addition to the cultural ideas, Chief Sneed noted that housing could also be a potential use for the site. “It essentially creates a culture and language campus, and there’s still an opportunity for development of housing for tribal members from the Snowbird Community.”
Chief Sneed did reiterate, “There is no resolution supporting this as the plan. We just wanted to give you some ideas.”
Gil Jackson, a first language Cherokee speaker and a member of the Cherokee Speakers Council, noted, “As you know, we’re losing speakers…we don’t have a lot of time, and we’ve been looking for a building for our summer language program and after-school program for going on three years.”
He said they aren’t able to fill all of the requests for those programs due to a lack of space. “We have a lot of interest.”
Jackson, who told Council he is 70-years-old and will work with the language as long as he can, commented, “We need to get this thing going right away. It needs to start happening today.”
Angelina Jumper, Junaluska Museum cultural resources supervisor, spoke in favor of the purchase stating, “I personally feel like this is a great opportunity for the Junaluska Museum. (The late) TJ Holland and Louise Reed have spent the past 20 years keeping the Junaluska Museum afloat and the tiny building that they had over by his gravesite. They have done an amazing job at that, and it has given us the opportunity to build a bigger museum.”
She added, “With this opportunity, we’ll be able to put the Junaluska Museum in a bigger place where there’s more room for expansion – and, not only just have the Junaluska Museum there, but have a cultural center there for the Snowbird people and the community people to be able to come and learn about their history…the language is dying, but so is our history.”
Lori Taylor, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians from the Big Cove Community, said she is not against the language and culture, but questions the planning aspect. “The gist of this is that it is unplanned again.”
She also said, “It goes back to what we think could happen, not what we know. And, we don’t have those numbers in front of us…when we think of moving forward as a Tribe and thinking outside of the box, that’s exactly what I’m asking you guys to do.”
Later on the discussion, Taylor noted, “When you look at the reality of this land and what you think we’re going to build on it and how we think we’re going to make a profit on it, how much is it going to cost us to get there? We don’t know that. Why? Because we have no numbers.”
During the discussion on the legislation, another piece of legislation was brought up – Res. No. 600 (2021). That legislation was submitted by Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke and passed in the Tribal Council session on Thursday, Sept. 9. It has yet to be ratified and become tribal law.
Res. No. 600 states that the Lands Acquisition Committee shall “prepare land purchase guidelines for Tribal Council approval”. Chief Sneed said during Monday’s session that he has not ratified this legislation yet, but his office has begun preparing the guidelines required.
Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell made a motion to withdraw Res. No. 609 and stated, “I don’t doubt that this is a good piece of property. I don’t doubt that there might be an opportunity for an economic boost as well from this property. Tommye brought in a piece of legislation last month, that the Chief hasn’t ratified yet, to help us to identify and to justify these purchases other than based on the supposed or the idea of what could happen there.”
He added, “Overall, I think it’s a good idea. We need to do something, but I think we need to have something more concrete than what we have now.”
Rep. Saunooke seconded his motion stating that she has always asked for plans on land purchases during her 22-year career on Council.
Kim Deas, EBCI Economic Development program, answered several questions for Council during the discussion and noted, “McMillan, Pazdan, and Smith was hired to do test fits on multiple sites in Robbinsville. After visiting those multiple sites, the lake property was the best fit for the needs. The other sites had too many barriers to entry.”
She said traffic count figures, as of 2019, had a total of 4,400 vehicles going by the property daily. Deas did emphasize that nothing is set in stone yet. “These are not final designs. Everyone understands that, right? This hasn’t been bid out and they’re not final designs. So, we do not have a cost associated with those – just an idea of what it could look like.”
Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose said it would be a smart purchase for the Tribe no matter its usage. “This is an investment. Indian tribes are buying up property all over the United States. They’re buying their land back…Whether we put a museum there or not, if you buy it and lot it up, you’re going to double your money. Ten years from now, we could re-sell it again.”
He did add, “I think what we need to get down to is the cost to build a museum. I’m not worried about the property purchase.”
Rep. Shell’s move to withdraw was killed. Rep. Shell, Rep. Saunooke, Big Cove Rep. Richard French, and Vice Chairman David Wolfe being the only ones voting for. Voting to pass the legislation went exactly as the move to withdraw only reverse with Reps. Shell, Saunooke, French and Vice Chairman Wolfe being the only four to vote against passage.
Following the vote, Rep. Saunooke said, “I don’t think any of us are opposed to this. But, in 2002, I had a resolution that laid out all of this and it never was carried out.”