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Despite Nikwasi Mound Controversy, Cherokee Maintains Strong WNC Business Relationships

Lilly Knoepp
Principal Chief Richard Sneed spoke at Macon County BizWeek 2019 Banquet.

  As the controversy over the ownership of the Nikwasi Mound in Franklin lingers on, Macon County officials are highlighting their working relationship with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee.


Macon County’s Economic Development Commission honored its outdoor recreation industry, a high employment rate and the founding ofFranklin’s first radio station in 1957 during a weeklong celebration.  But the county’s relationship with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians was also a central part of the event.  Principal Chief Richard Sneed was the keynote speaker at the Bizweek Banquet.


“That same tenacity is in our DNA - your’s and mine - that’s why we still thrive today in a place that can be difficult to live,” says Sneed, in reference to shared mountain ancestors.  


Sneed says that as much as 10 percent of the populations of surrounding counties like Swain and Jackson work at the Cherokees’ two Harrah’s Casino locations.


“I think that the Eastern Band has done a tremendous job over the last 22 years of responsible gambling and showing that gambling can just be entertainment,” says Sneed.


The Eastern Band’s relationship with the town of Franklin has been strained in recent months over a proposed deal to give the town-owned Nikwasi Mound to nonprofit The Nikwasi Initative. The mound is a sacred Cherokee site. Residents have also filed a complaint against the Franklin Town Council over the issue.


“We are grateful for the opportunity and to be clear the property is being not being conveyed to the Eastern Band - it’s being conveyed to a nonprofit conservation organization,” says Sneed.


Sneed says the investment that the tribe has made in the partnership is significant.  They purchased the adjoining property for $400,000 to build a museum.


Tommy Jenkins is the Macon County Economic Development Director. He was formerly a board member of the Nikwasi Initative.


“But I think it’s even more important for smaller rural counties to work together,” says Jenkins. “Especially when you have an economic driver like Eastern Band with Harrah’s and the jobs that they provide there.”


Jenkins says tourism dollars spent in Western North Carolina have increased tremendously over the last 5 years. He sees it as the ticket to economic development in the region.


“Yes, we need to develop our smaller advanced manufacturing and our technology business but we need to take a look around us at the natural beauty and take advantage of that in a responsible way,” says Jenkins.


Highlands Aerial Park won the 2019 up and coming business award. CEO Kurt Damon says the park is ranked third on Trip Advisor for outdoor activities in North Carolina, as well, in the top 20 ziplines in America.


Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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