Cherokee chief hopes to grow heritage with casinos

Cherokee chief hopes to grow heritage with casinos

September 18th, 2012 by Pam Sohn in News

Principal Chief Michell Hicks of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

The chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokees said the tribe has made great strides toward saving its language and heritage thanks to money from its casino in Cherokee, N.C.

Now tribal leaders are planning a second casino in Murphy, N.C.

"We have the intent of putting a casino in Murphy, N.C.," said Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

"We're still working on a land issue over there. We don't have all the pieces put together yet, but we've gone through the market feasibility and financial feasibility, and we're moving forward. We hope to break ground in 2013 or 2014," he said.

Hicks said the revenue from that casino has helped turn around the sovereign nation of Eastern Band of Cherokees. With it, the tribe now has a $325 million governance budget.

"Our tribal government has 4,500 jobs and has added 700 jobs in the last three months," he said, noting the area's historically high unemployment numbers.

He said 80 percent of the jobs have gone to nontribe members.

"We're making ourselves a good partner," he said Monday as he addressed a packed house for the Moccasin Bend Lecture series.

Hicks said the tribe has invested $130 million in a new school system that offers the latest technology and green school that uses geothermal wells for heating and cooling.

The tribe also has been able to build the Kituwah Language Immersion Academy on tribal land to help keep the Cherokee language alive.

"If we lose our language, we've lost our identity," he said.

The academy has about 60 students.

"Just to hear them talk in Cherokee, it's amazing," he said.

Being a sovereign nation has other perks, he told his audience.

"We still have prayer at the beginning and end of every event. We can do that."

Those in the packed Tennessee Aquarium auditorium applauded.

Hicks said another casino in Murphy would not double the tribe's revenue but would increase it by "a nice percent."

Contact staff writer Pam Sohn at psohn@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6346.