In the wake of the controversy surrounding the company’s proposed substation, Duke Energy representatives claimed they were unaware of the project’s potential impact on the Cherokee’s most valued site.
But Russ Townsend, historic preservation officer for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, isn’t so sure. Townsend received an archeological report that Duke conducted on the site of the substation in 2008.
“It basically clarified that Duke did know all of these things they were saying they weren’t aware of,” Townsend said. “That was disappointing. They’re not required by law to consult with me, but they’ve always said they wanted to be a good neighbor.”
Archeologically, the substation project’s interference with Kituwah presents an interesting dilemma.
The EBCI bought 309 acres around the mound site in 1996, and an archeological survey the following year discovered a 65-acre village site that confirmed a long term of settlement. The mound site and the surrounding village are listed separately on the federal register of historic places.
The mound, 170 feet in diameter and five feet tall, formed the base for the council house where the Cherokee conducted some of their most sacred ceremonies.
The Duke substation project is taking place on a surrounding hillside that is not owned by the tribe. Duke considers the project an upgrade of an existing line, and therefore is not bound to a public vetting process that would involve consulting with state historic preservation officials. The substation site covers a 300 by 300 foot square, and its structures will be 40-feet high.
But the Cherokee have argued the project directly threatens the integrity of the Kituwah site.
Tom Belt, who teaches Cherokee language and culture at Western Carolina University, explained that the concept of the Kituwah mothertown for the Cherokee would encompass the entire area within a day’s walk of the council house. Belt said the actual valley and its mountains play crucial roles in spiritual ceremonies held on the solstices and in the cosmology that support the tribe’s clan structure.
“On those days if you stand at the mound where the council house was, the very place the light hits first is on the seven peaks on that mountain where the substation will be built,” Belt said.
Townsend said the archeological report filed by Duke confirmed there were 15 important sites within a mile of the substation project, and two nationally registered sites within a half mile. Townsend said there are likely no artifacts left in the ground in the area, but the report, conducted by a private firm, leaves little doubt about its archeological significance.
“It’s my professional opinion that this is really a true adverse impact to Kituwah,” Townsend said. “It’s not just a site on a hill we don’t want developed.”