EDITORIAL: Kituwah should be designated a World Heritage Site

by Sep 22, 2023OPINIONS0 comments

Cherokee One Feather Editorial Board  


KITUWAH – Kituwah, the Mother Town of the Cherokee, located just outside of Cherokee, N.C. near Bryson City, N.C, is an ancient, sacred site.  This site should be deemed a World Heritage Site – making it the 26th property in the United States with such a designation.

The property was purchased by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) in 1996 and was placed into trust for the Tribe in on Oct. 18, 2021.

Upon signing an official document placing the property into trust, Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed commented, “This is an historic day for all Cherokee.  Today, this land, Kituwah, the birthplace of the Anikituwah, the Principal People, today known as the Cherokee, will now belong to our people and to our posterity forever.  For thousands of years, prior to European contact, our people lived, worked, hunted, fished, and raised families on land that now makes up seven states in the southern United States.”

Kituwah, the Mother Town of the Cherokee, located just outside of Cherokee, N.C. near Bryson City, N.C, is an ancient, sacred site. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather photo)

Former Principal Chief Joyce Dugan was instrumental in the Tribe purchasing the property in 1996.  She told the One Feather, “I will always believe that the purchase of the Kituwah site which returned our Mother Town to our Tribe was the most significant accomplishment of my term as Principal Chief.  As tribal officials, we can build many structures that improve the lives of our people, but the most important gift we can give to this generation and all that follow is the preservation of our history and culture.  I truly feel that the purchase of Kituwah brought about a revival of the arts, cultural traditions, and historical knowledge, which our people are still embracing today.”

The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, comprised of eight “ancient earthwork sites in Southern Ohio” according to information from the U.S. Dept. of the Interior (DOI), was recently placed on the list of World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

Information from the DOI states, “The sites that comprise Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks were built between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago by people now referred to as the Hopewell Culture.  The earthworks, built on an enormous scale and using a standard of measure, form precise squares, circles, and octagons as well as a hilltop sculpted to enclose a vast plaza.”

Kituwah is much older than the Hopewell site, and it is set apart from its Ohio counterpart in that the ancestors of those original inhabitants still exist as a Tribe and still utilize it for many purposes including ceremonial dances, community events such as the Annual Kituwah Celebration, gardening, and more.

The EBCI Tribal Council passed legislation in 2013 protecting Kituwah “in perpetuity”.  The legislation states in part that “there shall be no alteration to Kituwah and the Council hereby supports the protection and preservation of said property in keeping with the spiritual integrity of Kituwah”.

Renissa McLaughlin, an EBCI tribal member and author of the legislation, said in a presentation at the time, “Kituwah is the original Mother Town of the Anikituwagi or Cherokee people.  This is the place where our grandparents received the Laws of the Seven Clans and the Sacred Fire, both given to us by the Creator.  This means that Kituwah was given to us by God.  Kituwah Mound was built with the Sacred Fire in its center.  It is scientific fact that the ashes of the original fire are still present.  The sacredness of Kituwah extends not only to the mound itself, but the associated village that occupied the entire valley.”

To qualify as a World Heritage Site, a site must meet one of 10 criteria as outlined by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.  We feel that Kituwah meets several of these criteria including:

(iii) “to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.

(v) “to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change”

(vi) “to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance”

The DOI also addresses management of the site.  “The inclusion of a site in the World Heritage List does not affect U.S. sovereignty or management of the sites, which remain subject only to U.S., state, and local laws.”

Kituwah is of immeasurable importance to Cherokee people, and it is very much important to the world as a site.  It is very deserving of designation as a World Heritage Site.