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Duke Energy, Cherokees in dispute over sacred grounds

It may well be the most sacred spot in North Carolina.

The Kituwah mound was bestowed to the Cherokees by the Creator as the birthplace of the Cherokee nation, according to oral tradition.

Cradled by the Smoky Mountains and lullabied for eons by the Tuckasegee River, the mound and surrounding valley is the Cherokee promised land. Cherokees compare Kituwah to the Garden of Eden, and even its panoramic view is considered sacred to all Cherokees.

Then last year that view was threatened. Duke Energy began clearing land on the other side of the river — but within view of Kituwah — in preparation for a regional equipment upgrade to boost power delivery to the region.

Duke planned to put in an electrical relay station on a parcel 100 yards square, the size of two football fields laid side by side. Duke also planned to replace wooden utility poles with 100-foot-tall transmission towers and conduct high-voltage wires in the serene valley.

To the Cherokees, it was a form of desecration.

Since then, the tribe and the Charlotte utility company have been involved in a modern variant of a treaty negotiation, one that may ultimately be decided by the N.C. Utilities Commission.

Duke, the state's biggest power company and one of the largest energy companies in the nation, has been trying to reach a settlement with the tribe and has looked for other land for the project. But all the while it has maintained its legal right to pursue the project.

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