George Hasara – Columnist
The controversy of making a mountain out of an Indian mound just won’t go away. The place name “Nikwasi Mound” is a combination of Cherokee and English words denoting an earthwork, that is believed to have been made by a third group of people who predate us all, known as the Mississippian Culture. There is no evidence indicating that any of their direct descendants are living among us today, but the squabble continues over squatters rights concerning the Mound.
Patterns of world history hold true on a local level. Waves of different groups of people, from the Mississippians to the Floridians have and will continue to occupy the land. Yes, the Cherokee utilized the Mound when they came into our area, including erecting a council house on top. It’s unknown if they used force to gain access to what is now modern-day Macon County. White people did use force to secure land and have also utilized the Mound, most recently, as an experimental herbicidal laboratory.
The mound-spraying mishap wasn’t wrong because of somebody’s ancestry, nor do you have to be of Native American ancestry to appreciate the cultural significance of Nikwasi. Back in the 1940s, the Mound was privately owned and slated to be flattened. A fund-raising campaign by local school children and a subsequent “gifting” to the town of Franklin prevented the Mound from becoming the Nikwasi parking lot. That story of Mound preservation is as important as any other historical record concerning Nikwasi. In fact, without the efforts of the children, there wouldn’t even be a Mound controversy to resolve.
I’m a believer that history and heritage belongs to all of us. Whether or not we share certain strands of DNA with a particular group is immaterial to appreciation and celebration of culture. Years ago, I took some minor flak for modeling a kilt for a Tartan Museum brochure because I’m not Scottish. However, after doing a little research, I discovered that the part of Eastern Europe my ancestors lived in, was settled by the Celts long before they made their way to Scotland. So, kiss my thistle!
Cherokee leaders recently stated that they want to “bring the mound home.” I don’t think that it’s something that UPS can handle. Since the Mound isn’t “going” anywhere, it becomes a question of “ownership” of the land. Other than watching “Dances with Wolves,” I’m not particularly well-versed with the various Indian cultures. However, I have the distinct impression, that ownership of land (as in the sense of buying and selling it) is a relatively modern construct adopted by Native Americans. I have my doubts if there are traditional Cherokee words for lawyer or real estate agent.
My “time-machine” suggestion is simply for the Cherokee, as in the pre-European era, to use the Mound as they see fit. There is no need for transfer of ownership. For those who can’t live without legal definitions, the town of Franklin could lease the land for a dollar for a period of a zillion years to the Cherokee, pursuant of course, on the Mississippians showing up to make a claim.
Contact George at firstname.lastname@example.org.