Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) was joined Monday, Aug. 10, by Franklin Mayor Bob Scott to dig the first shovelful of soil for an interpretive kiosk at the Nikwasi Mound. Held in drizzling rain on the Main Street side of the Mound, the ceremony was attended by more than 20 representatives from the town, Macon County, EBCI, Mainspring Conservation Trust, Nikwasi Initiative, and regional press.
The Nikwasi Mound is an ancient and sacred site, and the Nikwasi Initiative, a nonprofit organization that is charged with caring for the Mound, has been working with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and other partners to develop an interpretive center and educational gateway surrounding the Mound.
Juanita Wilson, manager of Training & Development, EBCI/Human Resource, and co-chair with Barbara McRae, Town of Franklin Vice Mayor, of Nikwasi Initiative, opened the 10 a.m. event with greetings and a prayer in both Cherokee and English.
“Lots of folks have helped get this started. And while it may have started as controversy, with no ill intent on anyone’s part, we decided that coming together as a community is the thing to do. We are neighbors and mountain people who have worked through struggles and come out of them stronger,” said Wilson.
According to oral and written history, residents of Nokwisiyi (now spelled Nikwasi) contributed earth from their own home sites to connect their families to the central mound, which held the council house as well as being the hub of public life in the town. Elaine Eisenbraun, executive director, Nikwasi Initiative, explained prior to the groundbreaking.
“The Mound has stood as a central beacon on the landscape for thousands of years and it remains prominent to this day, calling visitors to learn more about the original inhabitants of the region as well as the current community. The Mound was taken by settlers in the 1817 treaty and in 1946, residents and children of Franklin collected money to purchase the Mound in order to protect it from destruction. Today, Nikwasi Initiative caretakes the Mound and is working closely with EBCI to create a place of honor for people who lived here yesterday and who remain connected to the Mound, today,” said Eisenbraun.
At the groundbreaking, she added, “What an honor it is to be entrusted with this cultural treasure … this coming together. After centuries of issues, we are now building something beautiful, honorable, and long-lasting.”
Chief Sneed and Mayor Scott picked up shovels to ceremoniously dig dirt at the site of what will be the interpretative kiosk, much like the one that was installed last year at the Cowee Mound, along the banks of the Little Tennessee River in the Cowee community. Chief Sneed commented that “human beings have historically been cruel to one another. It’s a fact of humanity. No one is without sin. But what we can do is acknowledge the path and choose to work together.”
He pointed out that no longer will the Nikwasi Mound be “out of place” among an “awkward configuration of quasi-industrial and business,” but will be part of a “vision” so that the story of the Mound can be told.
Said Mayor Scott, before he picked up a shovel and stepped beside Chief Sneed, “This is a new era for Franklin … a new beginning. The kiosk will be beautiful and what tourists will see when they come into Franklin.”
The mask-wearing crowd that came out to support the groundbreaking was entertained with Cherokee stories shared by Jarrett Wildcat, as well as singing and dancing. Some onlookers participated in a “bear dance” with members of ECBI.
Weather permitting, the installation of the Nikwasi Mound interpretive kiosk begins this week with completion in a few weeks.