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Nikwasi Mound Transfer Celebrated By WNC Community

Lilly Knoepp
Community members and students from the New Kituwah Academy dance the Friendship Dance next to the Nikwasi Mound.

An ancient Cherokee mound in Franklinhas now officially been turned over to a local nonprofit.  BPR attended the commemoration of the transfer. 

Locals gathered in a pavilion on the Greenway near the Nikwasi Mound to mark the sacred site’s handover to the Nikwasi Initiative. Bob McCollum is on its board.

“Good morning,” says McCullom. The crowd responds: “Good morning!”

“What a great day that has been a long time in coming,” he says. 

McCullom isn’t just talking about the political bumps immediately before the transfer, but also the 7 years the group has been working on the deal. In March, the town council voted unanimously in support of the transfer butit was almost sued by a group of citizens for doing it.

 Vice Mayor Barbara McRae took the brunt of the political crossfire. She is now running against Mayor Bob Scott for the mayoral seat. He was against the transfer. 

McRae read a prayer with Nikwasi Initiative co-chair Junaita Wilson. McRae also serves as the organization’s other co-chair. 

Wilson reads the prayer in Cherokee while McRae says in English,”Father who lives in Heaven. We thank you for this beautiful day.” 

The organization is run by a board of equal representation from the town of Franklin, Macon County, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Mainspring Conservation Trust. The full board is: Juanita Wilson (EBCI), Kim Smith (ECBI), Barbara McRae (Franklin), Justin Setser (Franklin), Bob McCollum (Macon County), Stacy Guffey (Macon County), Ben Laseter (Mainspring) and Hope Huskey (Mainspring),

Former Franklin mayor and current town council member Joe Collins spoke about the Cherokee heritage of Macon County. Collins says his grandmother was Cherokee 

“It is home and the fact that now we can all work together - I’m very proud,” he says.  

The afternoon ended with traditional dances by children from the New Kituwah next to Nikwasi Mound. 

“And now it’s time for the beaver dance.” A drum beats while the children dance in a circle.

Credit Lilly Knoepp
During the beaver dance, the children pretended to hunt a stuffed beaver toy on string.

The Eastern Band is currently doing a feasibility study on the property next to the mound to figure out the best plans for a new Cherokee History Museum on the site. 

Meanwhile the Nikwasi Initiative will continue work on a cultural corridor of Cherokee sites – that includes a future eagle aviary at the Hall Mountain property near Cowee Mound.

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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