Planned Cherokee Heritage Center exhibit would show today’s communities
The Cherokee Heritage Center’s atrium is often used for receptions and exhibits, such as this display of screen prints. CHC officials hope to incorporate a permanent display of modern Cherokee culture, as told by communities participating in the “sister communities” program of the Cherokee Nation’s Community & Cultural Outreach. COURTESY
Cherokee Heritage Center Curator Callie Chunestudy assists artists participating in a screen printing held July 29, 2017, in the CHC atrium in Park Hill. CHC Director Dr. Charles Gourd plans to use some of the atrium space for a permanent feature focusing on modern Cherokee life. ROGER GRAHAM/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – Throughout the decades, the Cherokee Heritage Center’s atrium has been home to many displays and exhibits that have put the spotlight on facets of Cherokee culture.
CHC Director Dr. Charles Gourd now has plans to use some of the space for a permanent feature focusing on modern Cherokee life, and has the flexibility to incorporate information as it arises.
“The idea here at the CHC it to promote Cherokee history and culture, and I think when some people visit, they leave here thinking every Cherokee is just like that,” Gourd said. “I wanted to ensure something that allowed a partnership with the CHC and the (Cherokee) Nation, where we talked about the past, but we wanted to also do something contemporary and offer Cherokees an opportunity to highlight their communities.”
The CN Community & Cultural Outreach employs a “sister community” effort to connect at-large Cherokee populations with the tribe, and allows the exchange of ideas and resources, and Gourd wants that concept employed in the atrium display.
“We can have these local and sister communities show how Cherokees live and what they do,” he said. “Our hope is that we will have a way to show contemporary, or present, and future Cherokee culture.”
Some CHC visitors are probably familiar with the atrium. It is where they enter, and it often hosts art shows and receptions. The modern culture exhibit would not require construction, and the atrium would continue to host events and other displays.
Gourd said the display could include a large map showing each participating community – designated with a stick pin.
“The idea for that came from the Trail of Tears Association years ago,” Gourd said. “The National Park Service designated three Trail of Tears routes, and in those states, each Trail chapter is designating spots where there were camps, or where rivers were crossed. Our display would show the communities, how many Cherokees live there, and might discuss their schools or athletic programs.”
Traditional art and culture would also be important. Gourd said most Cherokee National Treasures live in small communities. Their work could be featured, as could those of other Native artists within those towns. They could tell about their communities through art demonstrations and impressions, he said.
“The purpose of the CCO is economic development and enterprise, and a lot of local artists are having a problem marketing their works,” Gourd said. “We want to establish partnerships with these communities to let them know what we are doing here and how they can get involved and teach people about the communities and their cultures.”
Speaking in mid-July, Gourd said the CHC’s short-term focus was the Cherokee National Holiday. However, he said a few communities had already inquired about participating in the display.
“They asked what I had in mind for the story, and I told them this is their story, and we’re just providing the space for them to tell their story,” Gourd said. “We hope to have this going, hopefully, by late September or early October. Some communities are ready to do this right now, but we should have the first ones in during the fall.”
Gourd said the preservation of traditional tribal culture, language and history is essential, but Cherokees around the country also have important stories to tell about what they do today.
“These partnerships are about getting more Cherokees involved in telling their stories, and we want as many as possible to take part in telling their stories together,” Gourd said. “They are the present, and their children are the future. We don’t want Cherokee history to become something that is all about the past. Our minds are not locked in the 19th century. We are a vibrant culture doing things in the world today.”