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In Western NC, 60-Mile Corridor to Highlight Cherokee Cultural Sites

Members of the Nikwasi Initiative gather in Franklin, North Carolina. (Juanita Wilson)
Members of the Nikwasi Initiative gather in Franklin, North Carolina. (Juanita Wilson)
October 14, 2019

FRANKLIN, N.C. — After preserving a sacred Cherokee site in Franklin, known as the Nikwasi Mound, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and a local conservation group are now developing a 60-mile cultural corridor. The corridor will run between Nikwasi Mound and another heritage site called Cowee.

Juanita Wilson is co-chair of the Nikwasi Initiative, the organization behind the project, which she said was sparked by the effort to protect Nikwasi Mound.

"The Cherokees honored it, considered it to be their spiritual center. But Nikwaski - which is, in the Cherokee word 'nah-kwee-see' means the 'star place' - and that's what they named it,” Wilson said. “And we speculate that that's because some of the trade that went on, other than agricultural, was around the mica, because there were some mica mines."

Once completed, the Cherokee Cultural Corridor will follow the Little Tennessee River and include historical information on Cherokee settlements, trade relationships and traditional knowledge of plants and agriculture.

The Nikwasi Mound is the only remnant of a Cherokee settlement that thrived more than 500 years ago. Wilson said she thinks the cultural corridor will attract tourists and boost the area's economic growth.

"We went from saying, 'It's cool to have these two mounds,' to, 'You know what? This could be a real economic opportunity,’” she said.

Ben Laseter is deputy director at Mainspring Conservation Trust, which helped the Eastern Band of Cherokee acquire the deed to Nikwasi Mound. He said bringing people together and finding a middle ground is important when weighing the factors involved in preserving culturally significant sites that are located on municipal property.

"To talk about how the mound itself and the area around it could be managed, maybe redeveloped in some way, 'greened up' in some way, to help bring some honor to this site here in the middle of Franklin,” Laseter said.

He said land investment in the corridor project is estimated to be more than $28 million.

A North American Tribal Nations map is online, as well as an international map of native lands, at

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC