Cherokee tribe doesn't want Duke Energy building near ancestral home

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is fighting construction of a Duke Energy electrical station next to a mound that marks the tribe's ancestral home.

The Swain County site, called Kituwah, sits in a field along the Tuckasegee River and is surrounded by mountains. After generations of farming, the mound is 170 feet wide and only 5 feet high.

But tradition says it once was the foundation of buildings that held the Cherokees' sacred flame, tended year-round at the tribe's "mother town." Archaeologists say Kituwah (KEE-to-wa) has been occupied for at least 9,000 years.

"It was a place that was given to us to begin our lives as a people," said Tom Belt, coordinator of the Cherokee language program at Western Carolina University.

Tribal leaders say Duke started clearing a site overlooking Kituwah in December without consulting them. The principal chief has asked Duke to temporarily stop work, and the tribe might file a complaint with the N.C. Utilities Commission.

Duke says it became aware of the Cherokees' displeasure only after work began. Brett Carter, Duke's Carolinas president, will meet with tribal officials early next week in Cherokee.

Grading continues, said Duke spokesman Jason Walls, but no construction will take place until Carter meets with the tribe.

The utility plans to build a "tie-in station," which helps move electricity through lines by raising or lowering voltage, in an area 300 feet square. The work is needed to meet the area's growing power needs, Duke says.

The station will rise 40 feet at its tallest point and stand a half-mile from the mound, across the Tuckasegee. Metal towers will replace wooden utility poles.

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