KINGSPORT - Representatives from three Native American tribes - the Cherokee Nation, Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians and the United Keetoowah Band - were in the Model City this week, meeting with city officials about how to incorporate parts of Long Island into the King's Port on the Holston project.
The King's Port on the Holston project calls for the creation of an arts, entertainment and heritage district along the riverfront area of Kingsport. City leaders envision the district including new restaurants and condos, a riverboat, the restoration of the old hospital, and the creation of an amphitheater on Long Island.
Kingsport has employed Kennedy, Coulter, Rushing and Watson (KCRW) to create a 20-year phased master plan for the project by June. The plan will include land use and zoning recommendations, vehicular and pedestrian infrastructure improvements, and other ideas such as public art and the incorporation of a civic magnet project.
The consultants held two meetings earlier this year to garner feedback from the public about how they envision the project. On Thursday, the consultants met with the members of the three tribes to hear their ideas about their portion of Long Island.
In July 1976, Kingsport deeded approximately three acres of land on Long Island to the Eastern Band. The land had been owned by Mead and is located from the swinging bridge at Riverfront Park to the back of the ball fields on Long Island.
For centuries, Long Island has held a sacred place in the history and heritage of the Cherokee, serving as a hallowed meeting ground and treaty place. Today, the Eastern Band considers Long Island to be one of their three most sacred cultural sites.
Long Island is strategically located at the junction of the North and South Forks of the Holston, and near the ancient crossing of the Great Indian Warpath, a major Native American trail leading from central Tennessee to the Northeast.
"(The Eastern Band) encouraged us and we gratefully accepted that we wanted to have a continuing relationship with them and work with them on developing this property, from the standpoint of it being historical," said Chris McCartt, development services manager for Kingsport. "In the grand scheme, this is a piece of history very few people fully understand. We want to work with them to get that history out there."
McCartt said the city could work with the Eastern Band in obtaining some grants to allow for initial planning and then to fund implementation, including signage, landscaping and public art.
Ann Coulter, spokeswoman for KCRW, said they plan to work with the three tribes on coming up with ideas for the site. One suggestion is creating a heritage park on the land, having it open for educational experiences and interpretive Native American history.
"We want to preserve the dignity of the island and honor its Native American history, keep it a natural place, but make it accessible," Coulter said.
Richard Birdtail, a member of the UKB, traveled from the Cherokee Nation capital of Tahlequah, Okla., to visit Kingsport and Long Island, seeing the land for the first time.
"It feels good because I've never been here before," Birdtail said. "I've always wanted to come up here."
Birdtail has worked in genealogy, development projects and other Indian tribes in the past. He said he would like to see something similar to an interpretive walk on the land, maybe sculptures, artwork and plants labeled in both their English and Cherokee names.
The consultants are expected to continue meeting with the tribe representatives on Friday and reveal their master plan for the King's Port on the Holston project during a public meeting next week.