The Nikwasi Initiative was founded to promote, interpret and link cultural and historic sites (such as the Nikwasi and Cowee mounds) along a Cherokee Cultural Corridor, along with raising awareness and funds to pursue those efforts, and exploring more opportunities for collaboration between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and local communities. 

Its story began on April 17, 2015, when a group of people from the Franklin and Cherokee communities met for the first time with the common goal of conserving heritage and healing relationships between mountain neighbors. Leaders from these two communities began a collaborative dialogue to explore strategies for regional partnership, cultural preservation and economic development. 

 Our Mission 


Nikwasi Initiative preserves, protects, and promotes culture and heritage in the original homeland of the Cherokee people.

Using engaged partnerships, Nikwasi Initiative focuses on developing cultural resources for diverse projects from the nationally significant Cultural Corridor along the Little Tennessee River, to restoration of heritage apple species, and widespread cultural collaboration.

These groups, known collectively as Mountain Partners, ultimately founded the nonprofit Nikwasi Initiative in 2016 to act on the collective ideas and goals conceived during these collaborative sessions. Formed with support from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, the Cherokee Preservation Foundation and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the larger Mountain Partners group includes members of the EBCI, Franklin Town Council and Macon County officials, members of Mainspring Conservation Trust and members of the Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center. (Learn more about Nikwasi Initiative's board here.)

Part of Nikwasi Initiative's mission is to develop a Cultural Corridor along more than 60 miles of the Little Tennessee River, from Cherokee to Franklin and to the headwaters of the river, creating cultural interpretation resources on-site to promote improved visibility of important Cherokee landmarks and historic sites. The first piece of this important project, a cultural kiosk with informational panels on the ancient town of Cowee, was unveiled in 2018 at a site overlooking Cowee Mound. 


The next step for the Cherokee Cultural Corridor is to add similar cultural signage and information at the site of Nikwasi Mound in downtown Franklin. 

Our mission includes connecting people to the natural and cultural heritage of this region, and the Cherokee make up a huge part of the history along the Little Tennessee River.


Promoting heritage tourism that involves everyone can have multiple economic development opportunities and can be a win-win for everyone.

— Dr. Ben Laseter