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Proposed Development of Kituwah
"Mother Town" of the Cherokee, Debated

Cherokee Nations News
Thursday, April 20, 2000

Copyright © 2000
All Rights Reserved


It is believed that the Kituwah settlement was the original settlement of the Cherokee in what is now North America. Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are divided over proposals to develop a 309-acre site in Swain County considered the birthplace of the Cherokee. Also interested are the other two federally recognized Cherokee, the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band, both in Oklahoma.

Kituwah, often called Ferguson Fields, is one of the "seven mother towns" of the Cherokee, was the center of Cherokee politics and religion, and the site of the main tribal fire. Legend suggests that Kituwah was the ancient Cherokees' first permanent settlement. It's pronounced Gih-DOO-wuh. Tradition holds that priests from Kituwah traveled to Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains and received a set of divinely ordained clan law and moral codes from the spirits. The priests gave the codes to the people, which became known as the "Kituwah Way."

The inhabitants of Kituwah, the "Ani-kitu-hwagi," exercised a controlling influence over all of the towns along the Tuckasegee and Little Tennessee River and the people of this region became known as the Kituwah. Because the Keetoowah were responsible for the protection of the northern border from the Iroquois and the Algonquian, the name became synonymous with the Cherokee among these people. As early as the 1750's, the "mother town" of Kituwah had a status and independence not granted less ancient settlements; town debates and political actions were kept a profound secret.

The name Keetoowah was derived from the Cherokee term Ani-kitu-hwagi" meaning "people of the Kituwah," and became synonymous with the conservative "fullblood" element of the Cherokee Nation. Members of the Keetoowah Society believe that a messenger from God came down and gave the name "Ani-kitu-hwagi" to them, and that the name bespeaks their special relationship with the divine. Tribal members were forbidden to reveal the meaning of "Ani-kitu-hwagi" and, in time, many forgot it. A Keetoowah didahnvwisgi ("medicine man"), prayed for many hours over whether he could reveal the meaning of the term; finally, he translated "Ani-kitu-hwagi" to mean "the covered or protected people

The Cherokees lost control of Kituwah during the 1820s, after which the land became a dairy farm with a grass airstrip. The Cherokee purchased the land in 1996 for more than $3 million. Some tribal members want to develop the land; others to preserve it. A 1997 archaeological survey of Kituwah found an early 18th-century village site covering 65 acres with a significant density of artifacts that indicates a long period of settlement and the virtual certainty of human burials. Jim Henson, chief of the 6,000-member United Keetoowah Band, visited the site and hopes the band will decide to preserve it.


* The Cherokee Indian Reservation
"The official homepage of the Cherokee Nation
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, North Carolina"
* United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
Tahlequah, Oklahoma
* The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma
Tahlequah, Oklahoma


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