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  • Lani Hansen

UKB youth visit Georgia with Youth Conservation Corps

Updated: Aug 9, 2018

A youth group of United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indian members spent their summer in Georgia as part of the Youth Conservation Corps program. Pictured left to right: Kota Pigeon, Daryn Smith, Tim Pigeon, Katelin Holmes and Jeanetta Leach. COURTESY/SHEILA BIRD



YOUNG HARRIS, GEORGIA  – For six weeks this summer, several United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indian members spent their time performing conservation  work and  uncovering potential  Cherokee artifacts as  participants in the  U.S. Youth  Conservation Corps program.  

“It didn’t matter if we were mowing, weed-eating, doing archaeology week, the scenery and just the presence of being in our homelands made it fun,” said Jeanetta Leach, a first-year participant. “It’s very educational as well. I learned a lot about traditions and my heritage and about myself.”

YCC is managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service , the U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service. 

It is intended to teach participants 15-18 years old about natural and cultural resources management through paid work experiences in national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries.

The youth group began working on June 2 and continued through July 14, getting opportunities to perform trail maintenance, learn about environmental sciences and assist with wildlife and water management.

Yet the most impactful work was done at an archaeological site in the  Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest near the Blue Ridge foothills. The site was discovered after several trucks and ATVs disturbed the area, according to WABE, a radio station in Atlanta.

Workers painstakingly sift through individual coordinates at the Stephens County archaeological site, putting objects in marked bags as they find them. KAITLIN KOLARIK/WABE

Archaeologists believe it is connected to Cherokee people and have since stepped in to painstakingly document the site, which unearthed evidence of a wood and mud house and several pottery artifacts.

“Archaeology week, that was kind of sad because we were digging up things,” said Leach. “I like finding pieces of pottery and stuff like that, but it still kind of hurt in a way. You don’t know who that was or if they were part of your bloodline. That kind of hit home to me a little bit. It was just a sad week. I enjoyed finding things but you thought back to, ‘who was this? Whose loved one was this? Was it one of my family members?’”

The site also hit home for second-year participant Tim Pigeon.

“I am almost positive that some of my blood line has been on that dirt,” he said. “Digging up the potteries and whatnot, I would be thinking someone from my family might have made this or touched this at one point and one time. I had mixed emotions about it. I like that I’m spreading the Native culture but a part of me feels like it belongs in the dirt for a reason and that it should stay in the dirt.”

All artifacts collected were handled with respect and will help archaeologists learn more about the area and time period in which the artifacts were made.

Previous assumptions believed that people did not inhabit the area.

In addition to pottery, Pigeon said the group also uncovered small skull fragments. “It wasn’t a full on grave site. It was bone fragment, but it was still enough to not want to come back there,” he said. “We went back to that spot for another day and made sure the bones went right exactly where it was and it was buried. I am from the Stokes grounds and I did say some prayers. We handled that in a orderly way.”

Crew Leader Bob Henson spent time assisting and mentoring the group. He was also affected by the program and encouraged all youth to apply.

“If you get a chance to go and work, whether it’s forestry or to do with archaeology, we have that in us,” he said. “Do it for your ancestors and the people that died on the Trail of Tears, whether they need to be found and given a proper burial, whatever, do it for them.”

For more information about YCC, visit

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