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News Stewardship, preservation of Nikwasi mound discussed in informal meeting

The Nikwasi Mound, a monument of deep and spiritual significance to the Cherokee Indians, has been a site of controversy as of late within the Town of Franklin. At the request of members from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, (ECBI) an informal meeting was held at the Macon County Historical Museum regarding the stewardship of the mound by the Town of Franklin. The purpose was simple: To express to locals the site’s deep meaning to the native people as well as their frustration with the herbicide application that occurred in April.

The Nikwasi Indian Mound, which predates the Cherokee themselves, is in fact one of the largest intact mounds located in Western North Carolina. Present at the meeting were people from throughout the region who, in some way, are impacted by the mound socially or politically. Among those in attendance were EBCI members TJ Holland, Russ Townsend, Diamond Brown, Western Carolina University cultural and anthropological professors Tom Belt and Anne Rogers, Macon County Historical Society director Robert Shook, local historian and journalist Barbara McRae and Franklin alderman Bob Scott, to name a few. In essence, the Cherokee speakers expressed to the others that the mound had a deep spiritual meaning for the natives— synonymous with them and their ancestors — and served as a civic center for Nikwasi. According to some present that day, the meeting not only succeeded in further cementing the role the mound plays for the Cherokee’s cultural identity, but it led to initial talks about further preserving the mound.

“No decisions were made,” said Scott, stressing the informality of the group. “Ideas were discussed like who should be the stakeholders of the mound and about the need for a barrier between the mound and the public. The people left knowing that the tribe held the mound so highly.”

As of right now, the town is the legal steward of the mound, as it obtained the deed for the site in 1946 through the Macon County Historical Society. Therefore the maintenance of the local landmark has been the town’s responsibility.

“The town has not been a particularly good steward of the mound,” said Scott. “It needs to be preserved.”

In April, the mound was sprayed with an herbicide without the approval from either the town board or its special mound committee which was charged with handling all matters concerning the site. Initially, the grass at the top of the mound was to be killed to make way for “eco-grass,” a grass that grows only about six inches which would cut on maintenance costs. However the grass did not germinate and the mound became largely brown and barren.

Subsequently, the Cherokee community asked for an apology from town officials. Initially the town did not officially respond, though the mayor, Joe Collins, made a personal apology.

“It was a history lesson of how the mound came to be and how disappointed they are in what the town did,” said Shook. “They want to be involved ... I guess they felt like they could do whatever, and basically it was poisoned from the herbicide.”

According to Shook, the only thing in any detail discussed to serve as a barrier for the mound was a large steel fence that the EBCI members said they would be willing to supply.

“We did get the feeling that the tribe would like to have it back,” continued Shook. “This is sacred ground to the Cherokee and the Town of Franklin has the deed to it. We got to get together and work on this.”

“Everyone at the meeting was in agreement that more needed to be done for the mound,” said McRae. “I think it was interesting. I was impressed with their [Cherokee] sincerity. It’s a site that has great importance to them.”

All in all, it’s a matter of respect.

“Think if this were a local church cemetery people would be raising all kinds of Cain,” said Scott of the mound controversy. “Everyone would have made amends and this wouldn’t be an issue.”

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