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Nikwasi Initiative wants deed to Cherokee mound

Franklin Town Council is considering deeding the Nikwasi Mound over to the nonprofit Nikwasi Initiative. File photo Franklin Town Council is considering deeding the Nikwasi Mound over to the nonprofit Nikwasi Initiative. File photo

In a historic decision, the town of Franklin voted Monday to move forward with the process of deeding the Nikwasi Mound over to Nikwasi Initiative as the nonprofit continues its work to preserve and promote the region’s important cultural sites. 

While the deed will still have to be drawn up and voted on by the Franklin Town Council before ownership trades hands, the town’s decision to move forward with the process is a major turning point given the history of ownership. 

Nikwasi Mound, located in downtown Franklin near the Little Tennessee River, has been in the town’s ownership since the 1940s when the town scraped together enough money to save the property from being developed. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians last attempted to get the property back into EBCI ownership in 2012, but the town was unwilling to transfer sole ownership. 

At the time, Franklin Alderman Bob Scott — now mayor — was not in favor of deeding the property back to EBCI but was open to the idea of finding a joint understanding that would benefit both parties. Ultimately, the town passed a resolution in 2014 to keep the mound and rejected a formal request from EBCI to hand it over. 

That was the impetus that started Nikwasi Initiative a couple of years ago, EBCI member Juanita Wilson told the Franklin Town Council during a Monday night meeting. She and Town Councilmember Barbara McRae are currently co-chairs of the community development organization with representatives of Macon County, Franklin, EBCI and Mainspring Conservation Trust. 

“This touches me in a way y’all will probably never know,” Wilson told the board following McRae’s request to move forward with drawing up a deed. 

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She said it had been her vision for the last 10 to 15 years to create a cultural corridor in the area to include the Cherokee mounds as well as other culturally important sites that honored not only Cherokee heritage but also that of the Scots-Irish and Appalachian heritage. 

“We all depended on each other for survival back then and bringing that back home — it unites us,” she said. “No one loses anything — we all gain so very much by doing this. The Mountain Partners came together over a controversy but what we’ve been able to do is heal that and move on and to get to this level of collaboration and partnership and really a love for one another is amazing.” 

McRae said the Nikwasi Initiative is getting ready to unveil phase one of the Nikwasi-Cowee Corridor, which will include three new kiosks — one at Nikwasi Mound, one across the river from Cowee Mound and one at the Cowee School Arts & Heritage Center. She emphasized how important the deed transfer would be for all the partners involved. 

“This will allow the Cherokee after 200 years to have some representation in the management of the mound,” she said. 

In 1819, there was the treaty in which the Cherokee lost its territory in the region. Then there was an effort made to allow them to protect their sacred places, which included the mounds, but that treaty was violated as well. 

“Here we are 200 years later and we have the opportunity to do something really historic and reverse that wrong,” McRae said. “It’s truly exciting.”

Councilmember Dinah Mashburn asked what would happen to the mound if the nonprofit ever dissolved — would it revert back to the town?

Town Attorney John Henning Jr. said as an established 501c3 nonprofit, the Nikwasi Initiative would already have the responsibility of figuring out the future ownership of the property if the organization ever dissolved. The deed can also spell out whether the property reverts back to the town.

Henning will bring forth a proposed deed to council in the next couple of months for the town’s approval. 

A video recording of the Franklin Town Council meeting posted on www.maconmedia.com was used in the reporting of this article.

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