Gourd named new Cherokee Heritage Center director
Dr. Charles Gourd stands in front of the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma. Gourd was recently named as the new CHC director. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
PARK HILL, Okla. – Dr. Charles Gourd, a Cherokee Nation citizen with a background in nonprofit fundraising and Native American affairs, was recently appointed as the Cherokee Heritage Center’s new director.
Gourd is now responsible for overseeing the CHC’s operation as well as preserving the tribe’s collection of documents, artifacts, photos and books. He is also expected to uphold the CHC’s mission to preserve, protect and teach the Cherokee history and culture.
“Our primary and major function is to be the archives,” Gourd said. “We have a responsibility to protect our most sacred documents and the preservation and teaching of those for future generations.”
Before stepping into the role, Gourd retired from the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission, on which he served as the director. He has also worked on economic development projects with Native American tribes.
But he said it has always been a goal to return to the CHC, where he worked as a tour guide and dancer in the “Trail of Tears” drama in the late 1960s.
“One of the first jobs I ever had was here, and I have always maintained and retained an interest in the heritage center,” Gourd said. “I wanted to give it one shot as the director to make improvements and advance it to its best capabilities.”
Born and raised in Tahlequah, Gourd said he became interested in history at an early age. That interest led to a bachelor’s degree in history. He later earned a master’s degree in public school administration from Northeastern State University.
“At the time I wanted to teach history and coach basketball, so I immediately got a job teaching history and coaching basketball,” he said. “But I wanted to do more.”
Eager to broaden his knowledge, Gourd earned a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma and a doctorate from the University of Kansas in anthropology, as well as training in entrepreneurship from Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
In 2007, he received the lifetime achievement award for anthropology in non-academic settings from the American Anthropology Association. Gourd was one of only three Native Americans to receive the award.
“For the acknowledgment that the award was for, anthropology in non-academic settings, to me was greater than any award they could give,” he said. “Because we didn’t teach anthropology in universities, we went out in the world and worked, and to see that being recognized was great.”
He credits the experiences he’s had for eventually leading him to where he wanted to be.
“I believe all my background and experiences I have had throughout these years has led me to be ready to take on the responsibility as the new director,” he said. “If I can take all the collected knowledge from the experiences I have had and make them work to make this a better place so we can show the world why we are the most unique people, then I can say I served a good purpose.”
Gourd said he intends to work on business plans for the CHC that will create jobs, generate revenue and add more cultural activities to engage visitors.
Gourd said one project he and the Cherokee National Historical Society are working on is a new archives building that will house and preserve all of the archives at the CHC.
“We have a couple of designs for the building that we are looking at, but it will need all of the environmental controls,” he said. “Some of the stuff we have, like papers, are going to require contained rooms with special gasses to keep it from getting further in degradation.”
Gourd said the project is in its planning stages and that the CNHS is working on funding.
He said the main question he gets as the new director concerns the old amphitheater that was used for the “Trail of Tears” drama.
“This is a project that needs to happen, but there is a lot of maintenance that needs to done,” he said. “The amphitheater was the crowning jewel for the heritage center and Cherokee Nation for years, so our goal is to identify and figure out how to make that a viable function again.”