Tribe’s land-into-trust bill has movement, support
By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
MONROE COUNTY, Tenn. – A bill that would bring several historic Cherokee sites back under the control of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has support from various leaders.
The Eastern Band Cherokee Historic Lands Reacquisition Act was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Charles J. Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) on Jan. 3, 2017, the first day of the 115thCongress. According to the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs, “The bill would place approximately 76 acres of Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) land in Monroe County, Tenn., on the shores of Little Tennessee River/Tellico Reservoir into trust for the benefit of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Additionally, the bill places two permanent easements over TVA land to be held in trust.”
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.
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.”
Rep. Fleishmann told the One Feather, “I was pleased to introduce the Eastern Band Cherokee Historic Lands Reacquisition Act last January after extensive conversations with the Eastern Band regarding the specific lands, which comprise a portion of the southeastern part of my district in Monroe County. After introducing the legislation, I received overwhelming community support as well as the strong support of county leadership. Last year, the Natural Resources Committee included my bill in a hearing, and I am optimistic it will be marked up and go to the Floor for consideration in 2018. I remain steadfast in my commitment to protecting the historic home of the Cherokee Indians and promoting the economic development of the region.”
Two local leaders in the area have expressed their support of the project. In a letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Monroe County Mayor Tim Yates and Loudon County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw express their communities’ support for the bill and encourage Sen. Alexander to sponsor a companion bill in the Senate.
“We believe it is most appropriate for you to sponsor a Senate resolution since the lands involved in the reacquisition are in Tennessee and job growth from the lands will be Tennessee jobs,” the letter states. “TVA has voiced no opposition to this action and will be compensated for any lost hydropower from future development of the lands.”
The two leaders also addressed a town hall meeting that was held at Cleveland State Community College on Dec. 6, 2017. “Principal Chief Richard Sneed made a presentation on the positive economic and culture benefits to our region from this Act,” the letter stated. “In attendance at the meeting were Monroe and Loudon County local government and economic development officials, community and academic leadership, and strong representation from numerous businesses. As the County Mayors of the two most positively-impacted counties, we were impressed with Chief Sneed’s presentation and the overwhelming community support at the meeting. We are both in full support of the Reacquisition Act and have been so since receiving initial briefings on the subject.”
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.”
Co-sponsors of the bill included Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who has worked with the Tribe on many issues, as well as Rep. Paul Cook (R-Calif.), Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC), and Rep. David Roe (R-Tenn.).
A hearing was held on the bill before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs on Oct. 4, 2017 in which Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, “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.”
He went on to tell the Subcommittee that the relationship between the Tribe and the State of Tennessee has “not always been congenial”, but he went on to state, “Through all of this, the Cherokee people have persevered and even prospered.”
Chief Sneed concluded by stating, “I believe these lands should be returned to our people for the continued protection of important Cherokee historic sites. Our Tribe is committed to improving the educational resources of the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum and to providing a means for economic development for the local community. We will continue our long-valued relationship with the TVA in order to maintain the integrity of the Tellico Reservoir and to preserve the resources of this area for our mutual benefit.”