Without approval from the town board or the mound committee — a group formed specifically to discuss issues about Nikwasi Mound — Town Manager Sam Greenwood ordered town employees to spray the site with herbicide to kill the grass growing on top of it. The plan was to then plant “eco-grass,” which grows no taller than half a foot and therefore does not need to be regularly mowed.
“It was an administrative decision that got made. But, it got made. We can’t go back,” Collins said in a June 4 town board meeting.
The grass was planted but no greenery had cropped up as of last week. The town must now decide how it will proceed going forward.
At the meeting, tribal council member Diamond Brown and T.J. Holland, the Eastern Band’s cultural resources supervisor, visited with the Franklin town board to discuss future plans for the mound.
After Brown found out that the town has used pesticides on the mound, he said he immediately drove to Franklin.
“When I came, I wasn’t really happy at what I saw within the grass, what had been done to the mound,” Brown said.
Brown then asked town board members what their plans going forward are.
“The plan is not to let it be barren. The plan is to let it be green,” Collins said. “We’d hoped by now that it would be green again, but it hasn’t done that obviously.”
“We are not taking the obligation lightly but we are just, we are having to determine a little better way of getting it to grow back,” Collins later added.
Brown and board members agreed to work together to create a plan for the mound, and Brown asked the town to call the Eastern Band and allow the tribe to offer input when it holds meetings about Nikwasi Mound.
“I would love to be in partnership with those guys (the town),” Brown said.
His most pressing concern, Brown said, is possible erosion of the mound during rainfall because of the lack of grass and suggested that the town place a tarp over the site to protect it.
Toward the end of the discussion, Holland addressed the board and asked if it would be issuing a formal apology.
“The actions that were taken … were considered an insult, and it was stated that that was an insult to the tribe, and by our chief, an apology was demanded,” Holland said. “If we did a slight to you and you asked for an apology, I would apologize.”
However, Collins informed Holland that the board had already voted not to apologize and would not likely be taking up the matter again.
“We have already decided in the negative to that,” Collins said. “I am hoping we will be able to move forward.”
Nikwasi Indian Mound is one of the largest intact mounds remaining in Western North Carolina. Large earthen mounds were built to mark the spiritual and civic center of American Indian towns that once dotted the Little Tennessee River Valley through Macon County and the region. Scholars note that while its precise age is uncertain, Nikwasi Mound pre-dates even the Cherokee.