WASHINGTON (WATE) — The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill spearheaded by an East Tennessee congressman that would take specified lands in Monroe County into trust for the use of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Historically, the area that is known today as Monroe County was once the land of the Overhill Cherokee, which was the term used by European traders and British colonial explorers centuries ago. The Overhill town of Chota was once recognized as the capital of the entire Cherokee Nation. Many well-known Cherokee leaders called this area home, including Sequoyah, who created the written language of the Cherokee.
A Nov. 2 media release on the bill’s passage released by Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s office states the bill, dubbed the Eastern Band of Cherokee Historic Lands Reacquisition Act, was introduced into the 117th Congress by Rep. Fleischmann on March 19, 2021, and it passed the House by a 407-16 vote. Previously, the bill was introduced as H.R. 146 in the 115th Congress and passed the House by a 383-2 vote. The bill was introduced in the 116th Congress as H.R. 453 and passed the House unanimously by voice vote.
“Today, for the third Congress in a row, the House in a wide bipartisan vote, passed my bill to return 76 acres of sacred land in Monroe County to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians; righting a terrible wrong when their land was forcibly taken from them by the federal government,” Rep. Fleischmann said in the Nov. 2 release. “The Cherokee People have a long, rich history on these lands, and it is the place where Cherokees have honored the birth and life of Sequoyah, one of the most influential and important Native Americans in history. I am humbled and thankful to play a part in ensuring the story of the Eastern Band is preserved and taught to future generations. I thank Principal Chief Sneed for his support and advocacy in getting this legislation to where it is today. I hope my colleagues in the Senate recognize the importance of Cherokee tribal land preservation and act quickly to move H.R. 2088 through their chamber and on to President Biden’s desk.”
“Sequoyah was a statesman, diplomat, and seminal leader who contributed so much to help the Cherokee people. We look forward to protecting and preserving this monument to his legacy for generations to come,” Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed said.
Last month, the Cherokee Nation declared Oct. 15 as “Sequoyah Day” to honor the bicentennial of the Cherokee Syllabary and the man who developed the tribe’s formal written language.
Fleischmann’s bill summary states that the specified lands include the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, the Chota Memorial, the Tanasi Memorial, and land to provide support for these properties and cultural programs.
In the bill, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) maintains its right to carry out river control and development on these lands, including temporarily and intermittently flooding certain lands. The bill specifies the structures that may be constructed with the TVA’s written consent on certain lands subject to flooding. Additionally, the TVA must be compensated for lost hydropower capacity from the future development of these lands. The bill specifies that the United States is not liable for loss or damage resulting from certain activities, such as the permanent flooding of adjacent lands.
In addition, the bill outlines the TVA’s continuing responsibilities, including those related to environmental remediation. Finally, the bill prohibits gaming on these lands.
Fleischmann’s Eastern Band of Cherokee Historic Lands Reacquisition Act next goes to the U.S. Senate.