By Bob Scott
As Mayor of the Town of Franklin, I cannot understand why – if the Nikwasi Initiative is so set on owning the Nikwasi Mound in a loose knit partnership – they will not honor the town’s deed to the Mound and allow the Town to be a partner without deeding the mound to them?
The town has maintained the mound for 73 years. It was placed on the Register of Historic Places in 1981 further protecting it. The relationship of the town with the mound is extensive. This move by the Initiative seems to be based more on emotion than practicality.
I believe everything the Initiative wants to do can be done without the town deeding the mound to the Initiative. The mound’s 1946 deed, along with the legal issues involved – including the right of any Macon County resident to seek injunctive relief by the town giving up the deed – is a legal and expensive possibility.
To allow the town to be a partner and agree to work with the Initiative on maintenance and other ideas the Initiative has would be an acceptable compromise and perhaps, in the future, the issue of the mound’s deed could be revisited.
There is a lot I do not know about the Initiative and I am concerned the town is being asked to deed the mound to them when they have been a 501 c(3) nonprofit only since 2018. Yet the town is being pressured to give up ownership to the town’s most historic site. The Initiative started out as a group called Mountain Partners.
When I Googled Nikwasi Initiative, the address of it came back to 34 Wall Street in Asheville, and I continued to look into the address. It turned out to be Catalpa Partners. Catalpa Partners appears to be the driving force behind this move to get the deed for the Nikwasi Initiative. According to the Catalpa Partner’s website, “Over the past four years, Maggie Clancy and Tom Hatley (together early on with Kiowa consultant Billy Rogers) designed a conflict resolution strategy and convened the historic, reconciliation focused, Mountain Partners group. Under Clancy’s leadership, the Nikwasi Initiative is moving forward. Drawing from the historically estranged neighboring communities of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Macon County, North Carolina, the group is advancing and guiding land conservation and community based economic development, and bolstering initiatives along the 60 mile corridor, once the Cherokee heartland.”
Catalpa Partners say on their website they are helping mend a “240-year divide” between the Cherokees and Macon County, which is a worthy intention. However, in my opinion there is a new divide taking place due to this initiative’s move to secure the deed.
The Initiative has created an even more tangled situation as many Franklin and Macon County residents are concerned about giving up the deed, because town and county residents rallied and raised the money to save the mound from a commercial venture. The mound would have been leveled without the local efforts to save it. There is a long time kinship between local residents and the mound.
To date, the Initiative has not told the Town specifically what they plan to do with the Mound nor have there been any plans given to the town. I believe we need concrete plans about what will be done to and around the mound. I cannot see turning over the deed without any guarantee of what the town stands to gain. It is similar to buying a used car without looking under the hood.
The town stands to lose control of the mound due to being outvoted by three of the Initiative’s partners which are the driving force to get the mound – Main Spring, Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, the Nikwasi Initiative, and Macon County. I don’t know where the county stands on this as I understand they are in the process of appointing someone to the Initiative. However, Main Spring, The Initiative, and the EBCI are closely allied. I am concerned the town will have little say in future mound issues.
The EBCI has never, to my knowledge, expressed thanks to the town for saving the mound and it was never an issue to them until that unfortunate act of killing the grass on the mound. It was accidental and not done with malice.
The Town Council has offered to work with the EBCI many times. The EBCI never took the town up on the offer. I have spoken with three of the latest principal chiefs and offered to work with them.
The kinship of the town residents to the mound was well expressed in an August 28, 1981, letter to Lucie W. McCutcheon, president of the Macon County Historical Society, from Attorney G. Andrew Jones, prior to the mound being named to the National Register through the actions of the Historical Society.
“On my father’s behalf, and for the many others who shared in his hope that Nikwasi would always remain as a memorial to the natives of its valley and mountain, from whom our forebearers learned so much and to whom we owe so much, I say thank you for securing this recognition, and assurance of permanence.” His father, Gilmer Jones, drew up the deed and like many others, worked to secure the mound’s preservation for perpetuity.
As the mayor, I believe that this controversy can be settled if the Nikwasi Initiative would allow the town to be a partner without having to give up the deed. For years I have advocated the revitalization of East Franklin. I have not changed my mind.
Bob Scott is in his third term as Mayor of Franklin. He has long been an advocate for revitalization of East Franklin and a supporter of MainSpring.