Welcome to Jeff Corntassel's homepage. Jeff is Tsalagi (Cherokee Nation) and received his Ph.D. from the University of Arizona in 1998. He is currently an Associate Professor and Graduate Advisor in the School of Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria, which is located on Lekwungen and Wsanec homelands.
Jeff was the first to represent the Cherokee Nation
as a delegate to the United Nations Working Group
on Indigenous Peoples and strives to honor his
family and nation as a teacher, activist, and
As Tsalagis we are urged to "Live in a
longer 'now' - learn your history and culture
and understand it is what you are now".
Indigenous peoples who are engaging in a decolonization
process have begun to live in a longer 'now'
by remembering and renewing relationships with
their sacred homelands. For Tsalagis, idigiduwagi
or Kituwah was the place where the atsila galvkwodiyu
("the honored or sacred fire") perpetually
burned and served as the heart of the nation.
Located near the junction of the Oconaluftee
and Tuckasegee Rivers in North Carolina, Kituwah
had been continuously inhabited by Tsalagis
for over 11,000 years. Each year, Tsalagis traveled
great distances to Kituwah, bringing ashes from
their clan town to add to the mound while taking
ashes from Kituwah's sacred fire back to their
villages. However, the Tsalagi relationship
with Kituwah was temporarily broken in 1761.
Under orders from General Jeffrey Amherst during
the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Colonel
James Grant and 2,000 British, Chickasaw, and
Catawba soldiers were dispatched to South Carolina
in 1761 to "punish" the Cherokees,
despite their desire for peaceful relations
with the British government. Tsalagi Chief Ada-gal'kala
had requested peace talks but Grant refused.
Within twenty days, Grant and his soldiers destroyed
fifteen middle towns, burned over one thousand
acres of crops, and forced approximately 5,000
Tsalagis to flee into the mountains. During
these attacks on Tsalagi clan towns, Kituwah
mound was razed by Grant's troops. As keeper
of the sacred fire, Agayvla ("Ancient
one" or "Old Man of Kituwah")
held his ground and attempted to defend Kituwah
from British encroachment. In the end, however,
A-ga-yv-la was killed; his bravery and love
for the land are remembered to this day.
Over time, the destruction of Kituwah continued,
and the land was no longer held by Tsalagis.
By the 1990's, the mound had been reduced to
170 feet in diameter and stood only five feet
tall in the middle of a field once used as an
airstrip. In 1996, at the urging of Tsalagi
activists like Tom Belt, the Eastern Band of
Cherokees purchased the 309 acres containing
Kituwah mound for $3.5 million. Almost immediately,
Tsalagi citizens debated what to do with Kituwah
and proposals included a train depot, culture
center, Indian resort, walking trail, tourism
project, golf course, and even a NASCAR track.
As the future of Kituwah is determined by the
Eastern Band of Cherokees, Tsalagis have once
again begun bringing ashes, dirt, and rocks
to the base of the mound to build it up again.
According to Tsalagi Elder Benny Smith, "If
we follow the teachings of Kituwah, there will
be a return to it.
Additional sources on Kituwah and French and
Brown, John. 1938. "Eastern
Cherokee Chiefs." Chronicles of Oklahoma,
Conley, Robert J. 2005. The Cherokee Nation:
A History. Albuquerque, NM: University of New
Mexico Press. See especially pages 45-55.
The Pluralism Project. 2004. "Research
Report: Kituwah Mound, NC."
Smith, Benny. 2007-08. "An Oral History
of Kituwah." Phone conversations with Corntassel.