The Nikwasi Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and promoting the culture and heritage of the Cherokee homeland, is in the process of developing a 60-mile Cherokee Cultural Corridor along the Little Tennessee River between the towns of Cherokee and Franklin, extending all the way down to the Georgia state line.
Last month, the Initiative hosted a grand opening ceremony for an informational kiosk at the Nikwasi Mound in Franklin. “For more than a thousand years, the Nikwasi Mound was the center of community life in the village of Nikwasi, where houses, orchards, dance grounds and hundreds of acres of gardens and cornfields were bustling centers of activity,” says Elaine Eisenbraun, executive director of Nikwasi Initiative. “As the nucleus of their ancestral towns, the mounds remain central to the lives of Eastern Band members.”
The Cultural Corridor will include more than 36 stops, including museums, trails, river accesses and the sacred Nikwasi, Cowee and Kituwah mounds. Beyond just visiting the sites, the Corridor will offer all-encompassing experiences for travelers. “Our explorations of the terrain around the old village of Nikwasi have turned up exciting examples of heritage food plants still surviving here,” says Eisenbraun. “In partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Friends of the Greenway, we are exploring ways to create a Cherokee Heritage Foods Trail around those plants. This effort combines the study of nutrition, history, horticulture and lifestyle on a journey through Native American foods.” Furthermore, the Corridor offers plentiful economic development opportunities for the towns along the route.
Juanita Wilson, co-chair of the Nikwasi Initiative, says the Cultural Corridor will inspire a revival of traditions like storytelling, ceremonies and dances. “Those things are not lost,” she says. “They are asleep, waiting for us to bring them back to life, not just through performance but by using them to solve our differences, raise our children, respect our elders and govern for the people.”
Along the corridor, signage will be written in both English and in the Cherokee syllabary to honor and recognize the complex culture that has resided in this region for hundreds of years. “ The Cultural Corridor weaves the story of our region into a long, narrow tapestry of history, culture and thought-provoking ideas,” says Eisenbraun. “A person could enter the south end of the Corridor, visit the wealth of educational and spiritual sites, and come out at the north end with a changed worldview. Perhaps it reveals a landscape connection that is latent in each of us.”
Find a driving brochure and map of more than 36 recommended stops in the Cultural Corridor at Nikwasi-Initiative.org.