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Nikwasi Mound story will be featured in traveling Smithsonian Museum exhibit

Lilly Knoepp
The deed transfer of the Nikwasi Mound to the nonprofit Nikwasi Initiative was celebrated in August 2019.

The story of the deed transfer of the Nikwasi Mound in Franklin will now be part of a Smithsonian traveling exhibit.

The story of the creation of the Nikwasi Initiative and the transfer of the mounds ownership will be a part of “SPARK! Places of Innovation” traveling museum.

Bob McCollum is co-chair of the board for the Nikwasi Initiative, the non-profit that the deed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee sacred site was transferred to.

“I think the main thing that I feel right now is pride in our community for working together on this project at a time when so many other communities are struggling with similar issues,” said McCollum.  

The Initiative is made up of representatives from Franklin, Macon County, the Eastern Band of Cherokee and Main Spring Conservation Trust.  The mound is sacred to the Cherokee but the land was taken by settlers in an 1817 treaty. In 1946, the mound was purchased by the community to protect it and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

The road to that May 2019 transfer was long. The ownership of the mound had been debated since it was purchased by the town of Franklin in 1946.  In 2012, the town sprayed herbicide on the mound and killed the grass - causing great tension with the Eastern Band.

McCollum says a group of private citizens from Franklin, Qualla Boundary and across the region had hard discussions after that incident.

“There was three full years of talks before the actual transfer of the deed and that was just building bridges and partnerships,” said McCollum

That finally lead to the decision to transfer the mound, but even that wasn’t smooth.  The transfer was part of the plan for cultural corridor from Franklin to Cherokee announced in 2018.  

The town first drew up a transfer deed in March 2019, but a different group of citizens filed a lawsuit, which was eventually dropped. Two months later the transfer went through. 

The Nikwasi Initiative’s first act was to place an education kiosk at the mound to tell its story in Cherokee. Now planning is underway for a larger project focused on early Cherokee agriculture.

“I grew up in the community where we didn’t know how to properly recognize the mound. We knew it was important but we didn’t know why it was so important. Now we have the opportunity to learn about why it was so important,” said McCollum.

The Nikwasi Initiative is currently seeking feedback for future development at the site – now called the “The Noquisiyi Cultural District” which will be a site with diverse offerings, green space to reflect the past, present, and future culture of Cherokee. You can find the public meetings online and take the survey.  Paper surveys are also available.

This Nikwasi Mound story will be featured on the Smithsonian museum tour for six years, stopping in 24 states and over 140 communities.

It starts in Spring 2022.

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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