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Franklin residents debate Nikwasi

Of the shoppers polled while coming and going from the Bi-Lo parking lot in Franklin on a recent Thursday, none had to be told what Nikwasi Mound was, and nearly all were aware that the town of Franklin and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are currently at odds about the mound’s future. 


Which is that Nikwasi mound, one of 16 remaining mounds that once marked the spiritual, political and geographical centers of Cherokee settlements throughout the region, has been the center of contention ever since a former Franklin town manager directed weed killer to be sprayed on it in 2012. The move was meant to make way for replanting with a short-growing variety of grass, which would cut down on mowing time. But it aroused the ire of the tribe, a feeling only exacerbated when the grass grew back in unsightly patches rather than in the uniform coat intended. 

In recent months, the two governments have passed sparring resolutions, with the tribe resolving that ownership should pass to the Cherokee and the town standing firm on its claim, but ceding that it would be open to the Cherokee taking over maintenance, if they wished to do so.

The Bi-Lo crowd was pretty divided, though slightly favoring a change in ownership. Five people said the town should keep it, and seven contended that it should pass to the tribe, though not all of them were willing to give their name.

“I think we ought to give it back to the Indians,” said John Gallant. “Take a look at it. It looks like crap.”

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“If they want to maintain it, they should, if they took 100 percent responsibility for it,” agreed Jerry Stillwell. “It’s their ancestry.”

It wouldn’t have to be a complete gift, said C.R. Brown, but the tribe should be allowed to have ownership. 

“If the city has had to pay out any money for it, it seems reasonable, as much money as the tribe has with the casino, that they should be asked to give some [payment] to the city,” Brown said. 

Some people, though, feel that the mound should stay with the town. Though the weedkiller was a mistake, the town has taken care of the mound for years without incident, town supporters say. And Macon County residents are the reason the mound even still exists at all. Back in the 1940s, a bunch of residents rallied to raise $1,500 to purchase the mound from the landowner laying claim to it and deed it to the city, saving it from the bulldozer’s bucket. 

“Macon school kids raised money to buy it. I think the town should restore it, I think the town should maintain it, but it does belong to the town,” said Michael Johnson, who brought the topic up while being interviewed after casting his ballot. 

That said, he’s glad the tribe spoke up.

“It was right for them to come forward and express that, and the town of course should work out some restitution, but I think it belongs to the town,” Johnson said. 

Gerald and Mary Keener, meanwhile, said they didn’t see the point in the tribe maintaining it when it’s such a long drive from Cherokee and town hall is right there. 

“The town’s taken care of it for years and years,” Mary said. “Then all of a sudden here we go.” 

The final verdict on the mound is still to come. After Franklin passed its resolution affirming ownership but leaving open the possibility of Cherokee maintenance, Principal Chief Michell Hicks issued a statement to The Smoky Mountain News saying that the mound belongs to the Cherokee people and that he looks forward to “future discussion with Town of Franklin officials to discuss the EBCI taking ownership of the Mound.”

However, no such discussion has yet taken place, according to Franklin Mayor Bob Scott. 

“We’ve reached out to Chief Hicks and that’s it,” Scott said. “We haven’t heard anything.”

Chief Hicks’ office did not return messages requesting comment. 

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