By: Brittney Parker
Town board agrees to discuss resolution of ownership.
The debate regarding the Nikwasi Indian Mound may soon see a resolution. Monday night, Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Michell Hicks spoke to the Franklin Town Aldermen in hopes of beginning talks regarding the preservation of the historic landmark.
“I have a simple request … obviously the Eastern Band feels, for many reasons, that the mound should be back in the name of the Eastern Band,” said Hicks. “I understand that may not be a simple task as it relates to the history of the mound and the responsibility of the town. One of the things that is important to us as a tribe is to make sure that we are at least part of the process of protecting these lands, these areas that are so rich from a spiritual and cultural perspective. I feel a true responsibility as a tribal leader. As requested by many of our tribal leaders, we want to do our best to do the right thing.”
Hicks cited the successful partnership that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians(EBCI) has had with Macon County in the past regarding projects such as the Cowee School project and the Little Tennessee Watershed programs. He told the town that he hoped a similar partnership could be formed with the Town of Franklin to ensure the best interest of the Nikwasi Mound for all parties involved.
While the town of Franklin and the EBCI have struggled over the town’s treatment of the mound since a pesticide was used on the landmark, killing the grass, Hicks assured the board that that issue was not his reason for attending Monday night’s meeting. “I feel in my heart that we have a responsibility as a tribe to make this request,” said Hicks.
“It was a productive meeting,” said Franklin Mayor Bob Scott. “Chief Hicks was most gracious and I felt that after the meeting the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and [the town of] Franklin recognized that we each have a strong kinship to the mound. I came away from the meeting with the feeling that we will work this out mutually. I think everyone will benefit from a partnership if that is the way we decide to go. Both the town and the tribe have benefits for each other in this venture. Working together we will ensure that the mound remains protected for generations to come and that is the most important thing.”
While the tribe requested that ownership be returned to the EBCI, Hicks informed the town that if that were not possible, he would like to begin talks regarding a preservation agreement to ensure that all parties remain good stewards to the land.
Two other tribal members also spoke to the town board, urging the town to consider the cultural and spiritual significance the land has to the Cherokee Indians.
“It is childish to go back and forth about the ownership of the last,” said tribal member Matthew Tunis. “In my opinion, I would like to see the mound returned to Cherokee hands, but I understand that may not be possible… I want to see the land preserved. What is to keep future generations who do not understand the importance and cultural significance, from bulldozing it? I don’t want to see that happen.”
Tribal member Tom Belt, who works at WCU in the Cherokee Language Program, pleaded with the board to consider the tribe’s “intrinsic spiritual and cultural value” in land that once housed his ancestors. “Those vales are more than just something you can pass down, they mean so much more than that,” he said.
“Franklin is fortunate to have such a historical site within its corporate limits,” said Scott. “I know of no other incorporated town lucky enough to have a mound with so much ancient history on display for everyone to enjoy and learn from it.”
The board showed unanimous consent to arrange further discussion with Chief Hicks regarding a resolution that best suits both the town of Franklin and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.