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Groundbreaking At Nikwasi Mound Celebrates Next Step To Cultural Corridor

The Cherokee Cultural Corridor in rural Western North Carolina took a major step forward this week.

Through the rain, officials from the Town of Franklin and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians gathered with others together at the Nikwasi Mound. 

“We’re going to have the actual groundbreaking so get your cameras ready!”

Principal Chief Richard Sneed and Mayor Bob Scott used golden shovels to officially mark the construction of an informational kiosk which will be placed next to the mound. This kiosk will be part of the 60-mile cultural corridor.

Sneed explained this is an important step.

“To mark these places and to tell our story to me, forages the right path forward,” says Sneed.

The Nikwasi Mound is sacred to the Eastern Band, but up until last year the site was owned by the town of Franklin.  Juanita Wilson is co-chair of the group that now holds the deed to the site, the Nikwasi Initiative.

“Nequeesi for me, as I learned it is a place for spirituality. It is known to house the Nunnehi, which is a group of warriors that are known to protect not just the mound but the community around it,” says Wilson, who is a member of the EBCI.

The Initiative, is made up of representatives from Franklin, Macon County, the Mainspring Conservation Trust, and the Eastern Band. The nonprofit was given the deed to the mound in May of last year. An executive director of the nonprofit was hired this year, Elaine Eisenbraun, who also spoke at the event.

“What an honor it is to be entrusted with everyone’s history, culture, love and caring,” says Eisenbraun. “We learned through COVID to take care of ourselves, our neighbors and our culture. And I think this coming together is an amazing telling of that story.”  

Franklin Mayor Bob Scott was originally against the transfer of the mound, but he came out to show his support.

“This is a new era for Franklin and I think it's a new beginning. And I’m delighted to be here today and take part in it,” says Scott.  

Cultural specialists from the Cherokee Indian Museum ended the groundbreaking ceremony with traditional stories and dances including the bear dance.

There isn’t a timeline for when the kiosk will be finished. The first kiosk which is a viewing platform of the Cowee Mound was finished last year.

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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