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Nikwasi Mound Vote Delayed Until May

Lilly Knoepp
The Nikwasi Mound sits at the bottom of the hill below the Franklin Town Hall.

The Franklin Town Council delayed its decision until next month on transferring the deed of the Nikwasi Mound to nonprofit The Nikwasi Initiative.

It was standing room only for the public session on the transfer of the Nikwasi Mound, as 19 different people spoke before town council for and against the deal. 

Opponents held neon signs saying “Honor the original deed.”  Gloria Raby Owenby has been one of the main residents against the transfer.  Owenby says that she bears no ill will toward the Cherokee but she questions the Nikwasi Initiative’s plan for a Cultural Corridor.

“People come here for the pastoral beauty and I want to keep it looking pastoral. And I’m not sure that 60 mile corridor is what we really want,” says Owenby, who is one of the five plaintiffs who filed a complaint against the town. She says that if the town transfers the deed the group will take them to court. 

Four members of the board of the Nikwasi Initiative, the non-profit that would take ownership of the mound, also spoke at the meeting. Board member Bob McCollum brought cheers from his side of the room as he spoke about the Cherokee connection to the mound.

“To us, it’s a relic at the bottom of the hill that we grew up with here in the community. To them it is a real time here today part of their culture, their spirituality, their storytelling, their dance, their language – it’s completely different to them,” says McCollum, who is also a board member at Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center.  

All of the people who spoke agreed that the ancient mound built by the ancestral Cherokee should be preserved. They don’t agree if making the mound more prominent in Franklin would be a good – or a bad thing.  Ronald Carpenter is a native Maconian.

“I am all for leaving our Mound the way that it is and I don’t think that it needs to be commercialized – and I think that is exactly what they are trying to do with it,” says Carpenter.

Macon County Heritage Association and The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina both presented letters in support of the transfer.

Questions about the legal ability of the town to transfer the deed and the legality of Vice Mayor Barbara McRae to be on both the town council and the Nikwasi Initiative board were hot topics as well.

Franklin Town Attorney John Henning Jr. says that both questions have no legal bearing.

“That was really unfair she does not have a legal conflict of interest and as I also told the town council she has a legal obligation by state law to vote on the matter,” says Henning referring to McRae.   

“The idea that the deed is set in stone and that the town has to own the mound forever and ever, amen is not a fair reading of that original deed.”

Henning presented a draft deed for both town officials and the public to look over – which they’ll have time to do as council moved its vote on the deed to their May meeting.

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