Jeff is Tsalagi (Cherokee Nation) and received his Ph.D. from the University of Arizona in 1998. He is currently an Associate Professor and Graduate Advisor in the School of Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria, which is located on Lekwungen and Wsanec homelands. Jeff was the first to represent the Cherokee Nation as a delegate to the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Peoples and strives to honor his family and nation as a teacher, activist, and scholar.
As Tsalagis we are urged to "Live in a longer 'now' - learn your history and culture and understand it is what you are now". Indigenous peoples who are engaging in a decolonization process have begun to live in a longer 'now' by remembering and renewing relationships with their sacred homelands. For Tsalagis, idigiduwagi or Kituwah was the place where the atsila galvkwodiyu ("the honored or sacred fire") perpetually burned and served as the heart of the nation. Located near the junction of the Oconaluftee and Tuckasegee Rivers in North Carolina, Kituwah had been continuously inhabited by Tsalagis for over 11,000 years. Each year, Tsalagis traveled great distances to Kituwah, bringing ashes from their clan town to add to the mound while taking ashes from Kituwah's sacred fire back to their villages. However, the Tsalagi relationship with Kituwah was temporarily broken in 1761.
Under orders from General Jeffrey Amherst during the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Colonel James Grant and 2,000 British, Chickasaw, and Catawba soldiers were dispatched to South Carolina in 1761 to "punish" the Cherokees, despite their desire for peaceful relations with the British government. Tsalagi Chief Ada-gal'kala had requested peace talks but Grant refused. Within twenty days, Grant and his soldiers destroyed fifteen middle towns, burned over one thousand acres of crops, and forced approximately 5,000 Tsalagis to flee into the mountains. During these attacks on Tsalagi clan towns, Kituwah mound was razed by Grant's troops. As keeper of the sacred fire, Agayvla ("Ancient one" or "Old Man of Kituwah") held his ground and attempted to defend Kituwah from British encroachment. In the end, however, A-ga-yv-la was killed; his bravery and love for the land are remembered to this day.
Over time, the destruction of Kituwah continued, and the land was no longer held by Tsalagis. By the 1990's, the mound had been reduced to 170 feet in diameter and stood only five feet tall in the middle of a field once used as an airstrip. In 1996, at the urging of Tsalagi activists like Tom Belt, the Eastern Band of Cherokees purchased the 309 acres containing Kituwah mound for $3.5 million. Almost immediately, Tsalagi citizens debated what to do with Kituwah and proposals included a train depot, culture center, Indian resort, walking trail, tourism project, golf course, and even a NASCAR track. As the future of Kituwah is determined by the Eastern Band of Cherokees, Tsalagis have once again begun bringing ashes, dirt, and rocks to the base of the mound to build it up again. According to Tsalagi Elder Benny Smith, "If we follow the teachings of Kituwah, there will be a return to it.
Additional sources on Kituwah and French and Indian War:
Brown, John. 1938. "Eastern Cherokee Chiefs." Chronicles of Oklahoma, 16(1): 3-35.
Conley, Robert J. 2005. The Cherokee Nation: A History. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press. See especially pages 45-55.
The Pluralism Project. 2004. "Research Report: Kituwah Mound, NC."
Smith, Benny. 2007-08. "An Oral History of Kituwah." Phone conversations with Corntassel.