The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) pleaded with the Macon County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night asking for help to get rights to the Nikwasi Indian Mound. Although the property is within Macon County, the lease to the mound belongs to the Town of Franklin.
Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Michell Hicks spoke Tuesday night saying that he was compelled to fight to "bring the mound home."
"The mound belongs to the Cherokee people and the deed needs to be back in our names," said Hicks. "It is time for that mound to come back home."
Hicks informed commissioners that if the Town of Franklin was not willing to transfer the deed entirely, the tribe would be willing to work out a Memorandum of Understanding and/or Agreement regarding the future of the mound.
According to Hicks, the Nikwasi Mound is not the only property in Macon County that holds historical significance to the Eastern Band, but if an agreement is worked out with the mound, Hicks hopes it will open doors for future cooperative preservation projects.
"Macon County used to be Cherokee lands so you all have a lot of our history here," said Hicks. "We would like to work to start some sort of historical fund or foundation to raise money, not just for the mound, but for other properties in Macon County of mutual interest."
In early February of 2009, Macon County began to be at odds with the tribe after significant cultural and historical archaeological artifacts that dated back to 2 A.D. were found on the property near the Macon County airport where a runway extension was to be constructed.
In 2009, Cherokee Tribal Preservation Officer Russ Townsend worked with Macon County to reach a mutual agreement to allow the runway expansion while not disturbing any historical remains. Townsend was at the commissioners meeting Tuesday night in support of retrieving the mound.
As Commissioner Chair Kevin Corbin noted Tuesday night, the Eastern Band has recently worked with Macon County on the Parker Meadows Property to ensure that artifacts and burial remains are adequately preserved as the project to construct a recreation park moves forward.
The mound has most recently been the source of conflict between the two entities in the Spring of 2012 when the Town of Franklin sprayed the mound with herbicide during routine maintenance, killing all of the grass on the property.
Chief Hicks told commissioners that the request to retain ownership of the mound has nothing to do with what has happened between the Eastern Band and the town in the past.
"Regardless what has happened in the past and the history of the mound, that is all water under the bridge now," said Hicks. "I just want to bring the mound home."
Corbin explained the importance of continuing a working relationship with the tribe.
"My family has lived in Macon County for eight generations, so that would mean that my relatives and your relatives lived and worked here together," said Corbin. "I think it is important to maintain that relationship and to keep working together today."
County Attorney Chester Jones said that because the deed to the mound is held by the town, the only role the county can take in the matter is advising, encouraging and supporting the transfer or some other agreement regarding the mound.
It was the unanimous consensus of the board of commissioners to direct Jones to draft a resolution in support of transferring the property or reaching a mutual agreement between the town of Franklin and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Chief Hicks informed commissioners that he understood the town held the deed to the property and while he has previously made informal requests to the town to obtain the property, he has recently sent a formal letter requesting such to the Town of Franklin.
Town Manager Warren Cabe said that as of Wednesday morning the Town of Franklin has received no request, other than a letter received in July 2012. Cabe noted that in early May he met with Hicks to discuss appropriate maintenance routes to take on the mound.
"Chief Hicks said that someone in his office would contact me to instruct me on what the appropriate actions we're to take in properly maintaining the mound, but I never heard anything," said Cabe. "The town was surprised to learn that Chief Hicks gave a presentation before the commissioners."
Cabe said that any decision regarding the mound would have to go before the town aldermen for further discussion.