We can build something that has positive and long-range impact for the region.

— Juanita Wilson

Board of Directors

Barbara McRae

Co-Chair

Barbara Sears McRae graduated from St. Louis University with a B.S. in Biology in 1964. She attended graduate school at the University of Missouri for two years before taking a job as a systems engineer with

IBM in Atlanta. After her 1972 marriage to artist Jim McRae, she moved with him to Macon County. Barbara become a reporter and columnist for The Franklin Press and continued her columns on local history and nature after starting a new career in public relations at Nantahala Power and Light Company (later Duke Energy). While at Duke, she was assigned to the Little Tennessee River Greenway project, with responsibilities in grant-writing, planning and public presentations. She retired from Duke and returned to The Press as editor, holding that position for ten years. Jim passed away in 2010. Since 2013, McRae has served on the Franklin Town Council, currently as vice mayor. She freelances as a writer and photographer. Her community involvement includes a leadership role in the Women's History Trail, a project of the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County. This is the first such trail in North Carolina. 

Hope Huskey

Hope Huskey, a Sylva resident, is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from UNC Asheville and earned her Master of Project Management from Western Carolina University. She is the Associate Director of the 

Sequoyah Fund, a Native Community Development Financial Institution, where she oversees the Fund's programs and helps new and existing business owners access capital and provides business counseling. Hope is a member of Mainspring's Board of Directors.

Benjamin Laseter

Ben Laseter is the Deputy Director of Mainspring Conservation Trust, a regional land trust based in Franklin. Ben joined Mainspring in 2012 after working as a Senior Biologist at a North Carolina-based

environmental consulting firm. Ben has earned degrees at both the University of Georgia (B.S., Ph.D.) and the University of Memphis (M.S.). 

Kim Smith

Kim Smith's passion for community blossomed while at the University of Tennessee, where she earned a B.A. in French and Business and an M.B.A. with foci in Marketing, Entrepreneurship and Nonprofit Leadership. As the U.S. Census Bureau Partnership Specialist in East Tennessee, her work continues

Juanita Wilson

Co-Chair

Juanita Wilson is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and the appointed leader of the EBCI Talent & Development Program. Wilson graduated from Western Carolina University with a Bachelor of

Science in Sociology and completed her Master of Science in Leadership and Management at Montreat College. Wilson's professional journey has included a directorship with the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, executive leadership with the EBCI, and directorship with Western Carolina University. Along with serving on numerous boards and committees, she has participated in national and state-wide leadership development programs. She currently serves on the Z. Smith Reynolds Community Leadership Council and serves the EBCI through her work in 1) creating a new 14-program division in the Cherokee communities of Snowbird and Cherokee County and 2) developing talent and development strategies and training the EBCI workforce. 

Bob McCollum

Franklin native Bob McCollum retired from Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory after a 28-year career with the USDA Southern Research Station. In addition to his service on the Nikwasi Initiative, Bob is 

currently serving as Chairman of the board of Directors for Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center and is a former chairman of the North Carolina Public Lands Council. An avid musician, he can be found restoring vintage instruments or performing classic rock 'n' roll with The Remnants around the region. In 2018, the Western Carolina University graduate received the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce/Duke Energy Citizenship and Public Service Award. 

Justin Setser

Justin Setser is a native of Macon County and is the Town Planner for the Town of Franklin. Justin was appointed to the board by the Town of Franklin of the Nikwasi Initiative after the transfer of the Nikwasi

Mound deed to the Initiative. Upon graduation from Franklin High School Justin attended Haywood Community College, receiving an Associate’s Degree in GIS/GPS Technology in 2006. He was the former GIS Analyst for Macon County. Justin is a North Carolina Certified Zoning Official (CZO) and is a graduate of the 2018 NC Rural Centers Rural Economic Development Institute (REDI). Justin is also Franklin Fire Department Captain and proud to be an Eagle Scout.

to focus on community progress. True to her Alma Mater, Kim is a volunteer for life, currently serving as EBCI Office of the Principal Chief's appointed Beloved Woman Committee member, highlighting the history and role of Cherokee Beloved and as a Haslam Young Alumni Board member, advocating for diversity in education. 

ABOUT US >

The Nikwasi Initiative, a collaboration including the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and neighboring communities, is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and promoting the culture and heritage of people and places on the landscape that was traditionally the Cherokee homeland.

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.

© 2020 Nikwasi Initiative