Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, left at table, appeared before the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs in Washington, D.C., on October 4, 2017. Photo: Chief Sneed

Bill to restore Eastern Cherokee homelands moves forward in Congress

A bill to return ancestral lands in Tennessee to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is moving forward in the 115th Congress.

The House Committee on Natural Resources approved H.R.146, the Eastern Band Cherokee Historic Lands Reacquisition Act, at a markup session on Wednesday. The bill advanced by unanimous consent, meaning there were no objections.

The measure still must pass the House and the Senate before the 96 acres can be returned to the tribe. But Chief Richard Sneed, who testified in support of H.R.146 at a hearing last October, hailed the development as a positive step.

"This is a long process, and many people have helped along the way," Sneed said in a post on Facebook on Wednesday. "Upon completion, the historic Cherokee overhill towns of Chota and Tanasi will once again belong to our people."

The lands in the bill include the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum and the Chota Memorial, which marks the site of an original Cherokee council house, as well as the Tanasi Memorial, where the Cherokee Nation capital was once located. Also included is the grave of Oconostota, who was the First Beloved Man of the Cherokee people from 1775 to 1781.

The Tanasi Memorial in Tennessee marks the site of the Cherokee Nation capital in the early 1700s. Photo: Brian Stansberry

The lands are currently part of the Tellico Reservoir, a federally-managed site. Local support for transferring them to the tribe has been strong, said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tennessee), the sponsor of H.R.146,

"I remain steadfast in my dedication to protecting the historic home of the Cherokee Indians and promoting the economic development of the region," Fleischmann said in a statement after the committee approved his bill.

Since the start of the 115th Congress in January 2017, a handful of tribal land-into-trust bills have advanced in the House and in the Senate. One of them, H.R.1306, the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act, was signed into law by President Donald Trump just last week.

House Committee on Natural Resources Notice:
Full Committee Markup (January 17, 2018)

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