Holly Kays

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When Europeans first began exploring North America, they knew precious little about the land toward which they traveled — or what they’d find to eat once they arrived.

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One day after the seven-year anniversary of the Valley River Casino’s grand opening just outside of Murphy, tribal officials and casino executives gathered under a bluebird sky Thursday, Sept. 29, to break ground on an expansion project whose budget is more than double that of the initial construction.

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National Public Lands Day dawned crisp and cool Saturday, Sept. 24, a celebration of everything most beloved about fall in Western North Carolina — sunrise pinks and oranges streaking the skies above the ridgeline; clear, dry air carrying an invigorating early-morning chill; bright sunshine focusing the world beneath warm rays as the sky brightened, revealing mountainsides tinged with hints of red and yellow, rogue branches overly eager for the autumnal wardrobe change.

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Aiás Magitas, a 20-year-old forensic anthropology student from Charlotte, had been working the guest services desk at Western Carolina University’s A.K. Hinds University Center for nearly two years when he got a “vague” text from his boss around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30. He wanted Magitas to come in and talk, and Magitas was pretty sure he knew what it was about.

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Starting in March, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians may have the chance to sign up for a program that will let them receive casino distributions without reporting them as income on federal taxes.

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It was a chilly February morning in 2020 when Clemson, South Carolina, resident Heyward Douglass laid eyes on the legendary monarch butterfly wintering grounds, first discovered only 45 years before. Oyamel fir trees covered the south-facing slopes of the Neovolcanic Mountains west of Mexico City, and millions of monarch butterflies covered the fir trees, 8,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level.

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Faculty and staff at Western Carolina University have been seeing higher paychecks since July following the N.C. General Assembly’s passage of a budget that includes an across-the-board raise of 3.5%. Coupled with the 2.5% raise included in the previous budget enacted Nov. 18, 2021, that’s a 6% increase in less than a year.

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Term limits could be on the chopping block in Cherokee’s updated election ordinance due to legal advice arguing that the current law, which restricts chiefs and vice chiefs to two consecutive four-year terms, conflicts with the tribe’s Charter and Governing Document.

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A car rolls up the gravel driveway to the barn that serves as the main headquarters for KT’s Orchard and Apiary in Canton, and Kathy Taylor — better known by her initials, KT — drops what she’s doing to greet the new visitor.

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Navigating the darkened exhibit halls at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian is slow work on Wednesday evening, Sept. 7. Cherokee people — many wearing traditional ribbon skirts and beadwork — throng the halls, cluster around exhibit cases, and point proudly at the displays of brightly colored artwork that pop alongside the neutral color palette of the archeological objects surrounding them.

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On Oct. 1, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will start a new fiscal year with $732.5 million in the budget after Tribal Council unanimously approved the document Thursday, Sept. 2. Of the total, $241.3 million will go to the operating fund, up from $196 million last year.

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During his 30 years living and teaching in Western North Carolina, Maurice Phipps has heard countless tales of tragedy and near misses set in the Southern Appalachian backcountry — people falling off waterfalls , shivering in the cold  while awaiting rescue after a wrong turn on the trail, or logging hair-raising experiences with wildlife .

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$39 million hotel project  at the Sequoyah National Golf Course in Cherokee will move forward after Tribal Council overrode a veto from Principal Chief Richard Sneed Thursday, Sept. 1 — by the narrowest of margins.

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For the second year straight , enrollment is down at Western Carolina University — but an uptick in freshman class size has university officials hoping that trend will soon reverse.

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A unanimous vote from the Cherokee Tribal Council puts the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians on track to start prosecuting a range of offenses by non-Indians that it had previously been powerless to punish, beginning Oct. 1.

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Less than three months after being named interim chief of police, Carla Neadeau has been sworn in as the first female chief of the Cherokee Indian Police Department.

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Christine Cole Proctor was home alone with her big sister at the family cabin on Forney Creek when she heard an unfamiliar rumble climbing the isolated mountain road. It was a car — the first they’d ever seen scale the rugged route. 

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New housing will soon be available for Cherokee tribal members in Whittier following a unanimous vote from Tribal Council Aug. 4. 

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Five years after it first proposed the controversial Southside Timber Project, the U.S. Forest Service has awarded a timber bid to cut the first 98 acres of 317 acres to be harvested — earning sharp criticism from environmental groups who say the project will destroy rare old-growth forest. 

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Franklin-based nonprofit Mainspring Conservation Trust will take the lead in efforts to remove 97-year-old Ela Dam if its board decides in favor of acquiring the 62-acre property now owned by Northbrook Hydro II.

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While the federal government considers tribal enrollment cards official forms of identification sufficient to board a domestic flight or cross a U.S. border, state law doesn’t recognize them as valid documentation to make tobacco or alcohol purchases. On Aug. 4, the Cherokee Tribal Council unanimously passed a resolution seeking to change that, and Principal Chief Richard Sneed has signed it. 

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When Gary Griffith woke up a rainy Tuesday on Aug. 17, 2021, he never imagined that by the next morning, the 12 acres of green peppers he’d grown along the Pigeon River in Bethel would rest in drifts miles downstream, the unofficial symbol  of the catastrophic tragedy that was Tropical Storm Fred.  

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In the year since Tropical Storm Fred  ravaged Western North Carolina, emergency managers have been busy working to ensure that next time a wall of water tears through Haywood County, it will exact a much lower cost to life and property.

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At an Aug. 11 event  that Principal Chief Richard Sneed said felt more like a pep rally than a ceremony, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians broke ground on a $650 million casino development in Danville, Virginia, in partnership with Caesars Entertainment.

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Starting March 1, visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will no longer be completely free — a first for park history.

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The body of a Knoxville man who went missing while traveling to Charlotte was found Friday, Aug. 5, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will partner with Caesars Entertainment Inc on a $650 million casino resort in Danville, Virginia, Caesars announced today. The project will break ground this week.

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A decade of meetings, hearings, comments, debate and disagreement over the future of the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests culminated in a three-day meeting marathon last week that aimed to resolve hundreds of objections over the plan’s handling of everything from old growth to drinking water.

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The Cherokee Tribal Council voted 9-3 Aug. 4 to increase the $23.5 million budget for a new hotel on the Sequoyah National Golf Course to $39 million— despite a request from Secretary of Treasury Cory Blankenship that they table the vote for next month.

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Cherokee’s Fire Mountain family of outdoor experiences is set to add a new member after the tribe announced its intention to build a pump track and bike skills park, along with 8-10 miles of trail. 

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As a harsh late afternoon sun beat down on Asheville’s city sidewalks Wednesday, July 27, a crowd of about 100 people gathered outside the Buncombe County Courthouse bearing signs with slogans like “Gas is so last century,” “Declare a climate emergency,” and “Solar is sexier.” Two of them held aloft artistic representations of a bee and polar bear, orange paper flames encircling a nearby flagpole.

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More than 300 people gathered outside the U.S. Forest Service headquarters in Asheville Monday, Aug. 1, to urge stronger protections for the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest as the Forest Service finalizes the plan to guide forest management for the next two decades.

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A 7-year-old Georgia girl is dead after a tree fell on the tent where she was sleeping at Elkmont Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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Following a unanimous vote from the Cherokee Tribal Council July 14 , the tribe is expected to petition the federal government to change the name of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s highest mountain, Clingmans Dome, to Kuwahi — the name Cherokee people called it for generations prior to European conquest.

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The Cherokee Fair Grounds is in for a complete overhaul over the next couple of years after Tribal Council during its July 14 meeting green-lighted spending to demolish the current facilities and create a comprehensive master plan for the site.

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The state budget  Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law July 11 wasn’t the historic slam dunk for Western Carolina University that the previous budget represented, but the document contains some good news for the university. However, inflation remains a tenacious adversary.  

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The North Carolina Utilities Commission is hosting a series of hearings this summer to take public input on the draft carbon plan that Duke Energy filed May 16. Hearing opportunities include an in-person hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 27, at the Buncombe County Courthouse in Asheville, and virtual hearings at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23, via Webex. 

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After more than three years of research and analysis, a group focused on ending wildlife-vehicle collisions in the Pigeon River Gorge has released a report outlining its recommendations for keeping them safe from traffic.

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During its July 14 meeting, the Cherokee Tribal Council will consider a resolution that calls for Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to revert to its traditional Cherokee name of Kuwahi, which means “mulberry place.”

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For the fourth time in eight years, a person has died while incarcerated at the Jackson County Detention Center.

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During their annual Tri-Council session held Thursday, June 23, the three Cherokee tribes agreed unanimously to a resolution opposing state and federal recognition of groups they say erroneously claim Cherokee identity.

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Anybody who’s been to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the last few years has seen it — overflowing parking lots, mobbed trails and narrow mountain roads lined with cars. They’re visual symptoms of a national park bursting at the seams with unprecedented levels of visitation,  hitting a highwater mark in 2021 at 14.1 million visits.

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Maggie Calhoun Bowman’s family has spent the last 17 years making peace with the fact that they will never know how she ended up dead in a rain gully, covered over with leaves and a pink coat.

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As Earth Day 2022 bloomed under one of spring’s sunniest skies yet, more than 150 people gathered on a concrete bridge spanning Hominy Creek just outside Canton to celebrate what Mayor Zeb Smathers termed a “gift of genesis” — the long-awaited opening of Chestnut Mountain Nature Park. 

Two men are being held without bond in the Jackson County Detention Center after allegedly threatening a mass shooting in a group text conversation on social media.

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The 1900s were just a few years along when a young man named Masahara Iizuka stepped on American soil for the first time. Around 26 years old, he’d arrived in California to pursue a career in engineering, having studied the subject at Meiji University back in Tokyo.

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Lauded as a “historic game-changer” for wildlife conservation in the United States, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act last week passed the House of Representatives in a 231-190 vote. 

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When Chief of Police Josh Taylor’s resignation becomes effective June 27, the Cherokee Indian Police Department’s Captain of Corrections Carla Neadeau will take the helm as interim police chief. 

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In a unanimous vote Friday, June 10, the Western Carolina University Board of Trustees selected Charlotte-based Jenkins Peer Architects to design renovation efforts at Moore Hall. 

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While nothing is certain until census day in September, transfer and full-time freshman enrollment for the upcoming fall semester at Western Carolina University appears strong and on par with pre-pandemic levels, Chancellor Kelli R. Brown told the WCU Board of Trustees June 10. 

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