Bill would return 76 acres in East TN to Cherokees

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians could get back 76 acres of original homeland in East Tennessee, including sites where the tribe once was headquartered, under legislation proposed by U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, reports the Times-Free Press.

The Tanasi Memorial, built to mark the Cherokee capital that now lies under the Tellico Reservoir and other sites are targeted in Fleischmann’s bill. Tribal leaders began discussions with federal officials earlier this year.

Patrick Lambert, the principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, said the Eastern Band Cherokee Historic Lands Reacquisition Act would be historic for the descendants of the Overhill Cherokee — so named for crossing the Appalachians to live in East Tennessee and the Little Tennessee River Valley.

In the mid-1980s, “the Eastern Band of Cherokees were deliberating with TVA about securing certain tracts of land that would become Tellico Lake shoreline,” Lambert said. “These were lands that held special value to the Tribe because of their special cultural significance.”

The bill seeks to place the land in trust status, a designation Lambert said has been used by other tribes for similar purposes.

“This would be a very meaningful action, allowing the lands to again become tribal reservation,” he said. “They would be under our control and ownership as official homelands of the Overhill Cherokee once again. This would, in fact, represent the official and formal return of the Cherokee to their homeland — to what is now known as Tennessee.”

The bill stipulates gambling operations cannot be established on the land, and any shoreline work would be subject to TVA approval.