Bill pending in Congress would return 76 acres of TN land to Cherokees

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann says he expects a House floor vote “very soon” on legislation that would effectively make 76 acres of land in Monroe County a part of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians reservation, reports the Times Free Press.

The property includes land that is currently home to the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore and tracts once part of two major Cherokee towns that were tribal centers before the forced removal of Cherokees to Oklahoma 180 years ago. Much of the Cherokee homeland in the area was covered with water when the 129-foot-high Tellico Dam became operational in 1979.

“I was pleased to introduce the Eastern Band Cherokee Historic Lands Reacquisition Act last January after extensive conversations with the Eastern Band regarding the specific lands, which comprise a portion of the southeastern part of my district in Monroe County,” Fleischmann said in a statement on the action.

“After introducing the legislation, I received overwhelming community support, as well as the strong support of county leadership,” he said. “I remain steadfast in my dedication to protecting the historic home of the Cherokee Indians and promoting the economic development of the region.”

…The land in question contains sites that include the Cherokee towns of Tanasi and Chota, two principal towns and de facto capitals of the Overhill Cherokee living in East Tennessee, and the birthplace of Sequoyah, the man who invented the Cherokee’s written language and established the first national bilingual newspaper. The bill, if signed into law, would make the 76 acres reservation land and would allow the tribe to build facilities for interpretive and educational programs and other types of operations.

The act would put the land in trust status, and it contains stipulations that gambling operations cannot be established on the land. Any shoreline work would be subject to Tennessee Valley Authority approval.

…Of the 76 acres, the largest tract — 46 acres — comprises the property that houses Vonore’s Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, opened in 1986 as a memorial to Sequoyah and Cherokee history. Sequoyah, born in 1776 about a half mile from the museum grounds, fought on the side of Gen. Andrew Jackson against the British and Creek Indians in the War of 1812. He also introduced the Cherokee syllabary in 1821, and in 1828 launched the first bilingual newspaper in the U.S.

The museum in Vonore, now undergoing an extensive renovation, is on property that includes a Cherokee town house, log cabin, smithy and the Cherokee Memorial mound where remains are interred that were recovered by archaeologists from Cherokee cultural sites before the reservoir was filled. The museum land is about 12 miles northwest of the 18-acre tract that contains the Tanasi and Chota memorial sites, both former principal towns of the Cherokee.

The act, if passed, would make these lands essentially reservation land, (Max) Ramsey said.  (He’s working for the Cherokees.)

“The situation now, of course, is [the legislation] still has to get into the Senate,” he said. Fleischmann is working on that now, and he’s optimistic about the legislation’s future.

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