Franklin and Cherokee should work together on Nikwasi
By Bob Scott • Guest Columnist
In a letter to the editor published in the Nov. 5 edition of The Smoky Mountain News, Rachel Truesdell wrote that as mayor, I “have a lot of explaining to do because most of the arguments in the media from the Town of Franklin are horribly invalid and definitely culturally insensitive.” She was speaking of the Nikwasi Mound.
I thank her for expressing her opinion, although it was quite critical of the Town of Franklin in this ongoing controversy over ownership of the mound. Speaking only for myself, here is my personal response.
The mound was saved by the Macon County Historical Society in 1946 when it was bought with contributions from school children, residents, and non-residents who were, “interested in the preservation of Nequassi (Nikwasi) Mound, (who) have purchased said property in order that the same may be preserved in its entirety.” The deed was conveyed to the town on Oct. 7, 1946.
In 1980 the mound was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, further protecting it from ever being destroyed. The Macon County Historical Society held a celebration and a ceremony honoring the mound.
To my knowledge, I have never heard of an official thank you from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for these actions to preserve the mound, which would have been leveled for commercial or agricultural use.
In addition, according to historians, the mound was not a burial mound but a platform mound. It was used as a site for a council house by the Cherokee. It is well established that the Cherokees did not build the mound. Cherokee myths and legends say the mounds were here long before they were. Perhaps one of the greatest mysteries of North America lies with just who built these magnificent monuments and why.
The mounds were built by a race of peoples loosely labeled the Mound Builders or Mississippians. Theories have ranged about the builders that theorize they were people who migrated out of the great civilizations of South and Central America, or even wilder theories — that maybe they were one of the lost tribes of Israel, or Phoenicians.
Scholars believe the Nikwasi Mound was constructed about 1,000 CE by the Mississippian people. but that age is inconclusive. It is likely, but disputed by some, that this was before the Cherokee migrated into Western North Carolina. It is indisputable that the Cherokee used the mound and it most likely was the center of the Nikwasi town as late as 1775.
Ms. Truesdell alludes to the Jacob Siler family having to do with the removal of the Cherokee in 1838. Actually what she may have been referring to was the Siler Roll, which was a listing of Cherokees eligible for land after many of them returned to Western North Carolina pursuant to an act of Congress in 1850. It is a listing of 1,700 Cherokees living east of the Mississippi River entitled to a per capita payment. David Siler, son of Jacob, compiled the roll.
Yes, I married a descendant of the Silers decades ago, but let me assure you that at that time the mound was never an issue nor has it influenced my thinking in this current debate.
Reams of paper could be used in printing the history of the Nikwasi Mound. It is a fascinating subject and one that I would hope children would study so that it increases their knowledge of American history — warts and all — concerning how we got to where we are today as a nation.
The Town of Franklin has tried to come up with a solution to the mound’s ownership by being fair to everyone involved and putting forth a compromise whereby the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians can assume the mound’s maintenance.
I would hope that Principal Chief Michelle Hicks would understand that residents of Franklin and Macon County also have a kinship and vested interest in the mound. The town has repeatedly offered to work with the Eastern Band in a manner that is mutually beneficial.
When the grass was killed on the mound in 2012 it was regrettable. But it was not a malicious act. It is being fixed but it will take time. The town has reached out to Cherokee landscapers for their ideas and advice.
So far the town has not gotten a reply to its latest offer to work with the Eastern Band. Chief Hicks has not offered to compromise or to work with the town. He has approached numerous elected officials seeking political intervention to force the town to relinquish the deed to the mound.
I can assure Ms. Truesdell that the town will continue to work for a solution that is fair and will build good will with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
As the mayor of Franklin, I do not have a vote in this matter unless it should become a tie on the town board. But my opinion remains that the town and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have much to gain from working together. I prefer that the mound’s deed remain with the town. Franklin has protected and maintained the mound for 68 years. It is the town’s most historic site.
As the town’s resolution of Oct. 6 states, “The (town) board is open to discussion of maintenance of Nikwasi Mound by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The town board is honouring the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians offer of assistance of maintenance of Nikwasi Mound.”
I don’t see how much fairer or conciliatory the town can be in light of what the town has done to preserve and protect the mound all these years.