The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation is still asking the United States Congress to put 76 acres in Vonore into a land trust for the Cherokee.
The land is currently home to the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum and the Chota and Tanasi memorials in Vonore.
Republican Chuck Fleischmann represents Monroe County in the U.S. House of Representatives. He introduced legislation that would give the land to the Tribe. That bill passed in the U.S. House last year. However, that legislation as been stalled in the Senate by one legislator, Republican Sen. Richard Burr, he said.
“I will probably pass it in the House again,” Fleischmann said recently.
However, he does not expect Burr to allow the bill to get through the Senate this term. Decades ago, when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) dammed the Little Tennessee River, locals had to give up more than 15,000 acres to Tellico Lake. The Cherokee lost ancestral lands. The Eastern Band was given a permanent easement for 76 acres to preserve their heritage. Now they are asking for the land transfer to be completed.
Currently, TVA owns the land in question. Tribal lands are typically owned by the United States government and held in a trust for the Tribe. The Eastern Band is asking for that to happen now.
The land did not go into a trust when the dam was being constructed because TVA said it would hold up the Tellico project for several years. The chief of the Eastern Band at the time agreed to accept a permanent easement to keep things moving.
“This was an unfulfilled promise,” Bob Blankenship, president of the Museum of the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, said in a 2018 article published in the The Advocate & Democrat. “Now we need to fulfill that promise.”
Supporters of the bill contend it was crafted specifically for protecting the land. There is a section in the bill that specifically prohibits gaming, or casinos. It is very clearly spelled out that the 76 acres would only be used to memorialize and interpret the history and culture of Indians.
The Eastern Band recently spent more than $2 million on improvements to the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum. The tribe believes that getting the land in the trust will help bridge the gap between Cherokee in North Carolina and Tennessee.