Macon commits $100,000 in matching funds to the Nikwasi initiative, subject to support from other partners


The Nikwasi Initiative has the opportunity to apply for a $5 million grant, made available through the US Economic Development Administration with American Rescue Funding by the federal government. The grant requires a 20% match, which equals $1 million.

The $5 million grant would be used to develop the area around the Nikwasi Mound to preserve the mound’s history while developing green space to serve as an economic corridor for the Cherokee Indian Reservation.

On Tuesday evening, the Macon County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to pledge $100,000 to the needed $1 million contingent after verification that Mainspring Conservation Trust, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the City of Franklin also support the project and that they will help meet the $1 million matching requirement. Elaine Eisenbaum, director of the Nikwasi Initiative, and Juanita Wilson, co-chair, presented the request to the commissioners.

The Nikwasi Initiative was founded to promote, interpret, and connect cultural and historical sites (such as the Noquisiyi and Cowee Mounds) along a Cherokee Cultural Corridor, as well as to raise awareness and funds to continue these efforts and explore more collaboration opportunities between the eastern band. Cherokee Indians and local communities.

Its story began on April 17, 2015, when a group of people from the Franklin and Cherokee communities first came together with the common goal of preserving heritage and healing relationships between mountain neighbors. The leaders of these two communities have entered into a collaborative dialogue to explore strategies for regional partnership, cultural preservation and economic development.

This group, collectively known as Mountain Partners, eventually founded the non-profit initiative Nikwasi in 2016 to act on the ideas and shared goals conceived during these collaborative sessions. Formed with support from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the larger Mountain Partners group includes members of EBCI, the Franklin City Council, and officials from the Macon County, members of Mainspring Conservation Trust and members of Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center.

Part of the Nikwasi Initiative’s mission is to develop a cultural corridor along more than 60 miles of the Little Tennessee River, from Cherokee to Franklin and to the headwaters of the river, creating on-site cultural interpretive resources to promote greater visibility of significant and historic Cherokee landmarks. sites. The first phase of this important project has been completed and includes cultural kiosks with information boards in the old towns of Cowee and Noquisiyi overlooking the mounds that were everyone’s gathering place. The $5 million matching grant will jump-start the rest of the project and enable the Nikwasi Initiative to begin development of the corridor.

The funding would be used to consolidate more properties in the triangle surrounding the mound and to remodel the former Dan’s Auto Service building, which the tribe purchased in 2017 as part of the area’s eventual development.

The motion was moved by Commissioner Ronnie Beale and seconded by Gary Shields. President Jim Tate also voted in favour. Funding is also contingent on approval from the Nikwasi Initiative for grant funding – if they are not approved, funding will remain in the Macon County budget.

Commissioner Josh Young said he supports the project, but before voting to pledge the $100,000, he would like to know that Mainspring supports the project. Although the approved motion hinges on their approval, Young still voted against it.

Commissioner Paul Higdon said he also supports the project, but is reluctant to provide taxpayer funding to nonprofits. Higdon said he would be more likely to approve the request if the funding could be included as part of the county’s budgeting process rather than an unforeseen expense. Although the approved motion was a commitment, with full funding of $100,000 not needed immediately, which would likely mean it would be part of the budget discussion, Commissioner Higdon voted against the measure.


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