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April 24, 2007

Old Indians mounds claimed by Eastern Cherokee tribe

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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians on Monday officially reclaimed one of the few undisturbed Indians mounds remaining in Western North Carolina. “This property is not just about a mound,” said Principal Chief Michell Hicks. “It is about a way of life.”

The tribe worked with the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee to buy the 71-acre tract in the Cowee community north of Franklin.

The mound, which has never been excavated, was owned by generations of the Hall family before transferring to the late James Porter through his wife, Katherine, said Paul Carlson, executive director of The Land Trust.

The tribe has no plans to develop the property. It will be managed under a conservation easement. The site will one day offer interpretive signs, environmental education programs and a park.

Cowee was the economic hub of the tribe because its riverside location and proximity to white settlements. Until the late 1770s, around 800 Cherokee lived there.

The mound, which has never been excavated, was owned by generations of the Hall family before transferring to the late James Porter through his wife, Katherine, said Paul Carlson, executive director of The Land Trust.

Lloyd Porter, James Porter’s nephew, said Monday that seeing the mound and the surrounding land back in the tribe’s control was “an honor.”

Dolores Porter said her husband’s aunt and uncle always wanted the mound protected.

“We feel like we are honoring their wishes,” she said.

Tom Belt, a Cherokee language instructor at Western Carolina University, was one of the speakers during Monday’s ceremony. The program also featured traditional dancing by the Warriors of AniKituhwa.

Belt, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation, said he grew up in Oklahoma hearing stories about the people who stayed back east after the Removal.

As the story goes, he said, the Creator wanted the Eastern Cherokee to stay behind to make sure the tribe’s homeland remained protected. He said returning the mound to its people fulfills that prophecy.

“We are not just reclaiming property,” he said. “We are, in fact, rebuilding the tribe.”

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Contact Jon Ostendorff at 828-452-1467, via e-mail at jostendo@ashevill.gannett.com

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