Pay it Forward

Not your conventional nonprofit

Nikwasi map
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Elaine Eisenbraun

Who ever heard of a nonprofit formed to overcome discord? Well, you have now. It’s Noquisi Initiative. Generally, nonprofits begin like little garden sprouts that develop to correct some pervasive social, environmental, or health gap. They follow the sun toward healthier outcomes. But we grow from a different seed, one that must produce a fruit to feed people with different tastes. So, we spend a lot of time contemplating the soil in which we grow; we imagine vines entwining cultures together, grafted fruit trees bearing two flavors of apples on the same roots, and juicy strawberries that just taste great to everyone. How can one fruit feed different palates?

Elaine Eisenbraun
ELAINE EISENBRAUN, Noquisi Initiative executive director

Noquisi Initiative is not your conventional nonprofit. Our vision for the future is: “Intercultural understanding is universal.” It’s bold and broad and defies today’s ubiquitous dogmatism. I take sincere and deep earnestness in guiding Noquisi Initiative down opportunistic paths and into little grottos of possibility to help people, for just a moment, step away from their own tenacious paradigms and consider, honestly, someone else’s flagship.

Almost 10 years ago, the Noquisi Initiative was founded to promote, interpret, and link cultural and historic sites along a Cherokee Cultural Corridor; additionally, the goal is to raise awareness and funds to pursue those efforts and explore more opportunities for collaboration between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and local communities. As well as melding places and people, we are linking the long-cherished culture of the Cherokee with our growing modern culture.

Imagine a landscape where the trees grow accordingly in their own little plant community. Yes, there is competition for light and nutrients but at the same time they are all helping each other forward, whether through mycelial messaging, or symbiotic relationships, or structural support or soil building. What are we doing to build the soil in our neighbor’s garden? What symbiotic relationships are we nurturing?

I think the world should take note of Noquisi Initiative’s vision and start to make small steps toward interpersonal understanding. Following are some examples of how Noquisi Initiative is working in that direction. 

We’re developing educational signs for a Cherokee Blueway Trail to help river visitors learn about natural history of various aquatic plants and animals. Each sign also shares a Cherokee story about the featured species. It helps people to know more about a natural element and at the same time build understanding of indigenous relationships with those natural beings. In what way do we know that animal or plant, and how did the early Cherokee know it? Both questions involve science and storytelling. Both are real and very different visions of the same living being.

little tennessee river
AN AERIAL view of Main Street and the Little Tennessee River and the possible future home of the Naquisi Cultural District.

We’re working hard to develop Gaduni Kanohesgi. That is the name given by the Cherokee Speakers Council to the future learning center at Noquisi Mound. Poetically, it means, “Franklin Storyteller.” This place holds the potential to fulfill all the ideals of intercultural understanding, while also opening doors for Cherokee people to reacquaint themselves with a Mothertown around the Noquisi (also known locally by its Nikwasi spelling] mound in Franklin. 

Presentations are a regular practice of our staff and board. Standing before an engaged audience provides a real-time opportunity to ask for small corrections – to encourage people forward on the road to real intercultural understanding. For no matter how open minded any person feels they are, there is room to increase the unconditional appreciation in their hearts for others.

Have you been to the Cherokee apple orchard [Barbra McRae Cherokee Heritage Apple Trail] on the Franklin greenway, yet? Those apple trees, all developed decades ago by Cherokee farmers, are the real storytellers. Once they have fruit, they will hold the juice of ancient agricultural knowledge. I can, for now, only dream of biting into one of those fruits and letting the juicy wisdom drip down my throat. Food just simply crosses cultural divides.

history marker

Keep an eye out for the story map that we are developing! It will take you to realms you never knew existed, and right from the comfort of your home. And, by-the-way, please note that we are emphasizing the correct Cherokee pronunciation of our name, Noquisi. It means, “star.”

So, I hope you get out today to watch one little plant growing into a yet undefined fruit. I hope you take a moment to contemplate that fruit and the many faces it could have shown. But it is showing just one, be it blemished or not, and you can appreciate it in all its splendor for its unique character and flavor!

To learn more about future proposed plans for the area around the Noquisi mound in Franklin, visit; to learn about the organization’s projects, events, and volunteer and support opportunities, visit