TAHLEQUAH – A historical research center that doubles as a temporary home for the Cherokee Nation’s most treasured artifacts opened to the public Dec. 8 in Tahlequah.

Located at Cherokee Springs Plaza, the Cherokee National Research Center is described by the tribe as a state-of-the-art home for its collection of historic Cherokee-related documents and cultural artifacts dating as far back as the 1700s.

“We’re excited this provides an opportunity for the public to interact with these objects,” said Travis Owens, CN’s vice president of cultural tourism.

The one-of-a-kind collection includes thousands of historic documents and artifacts like family Bibles, bows, rifles, paintings and items made by students at the Cherokee seminaries. It also features a rare photograph of Stand Watie, the principal chief from 1862-66, and the original Cherokee Nation land patent signed by President Martin Van Buren in 1838.

“The patent is certainly the most priceless and arguably most important item in the collection,” said Krystan Moser, senior manager of collections and exhibits for Cherokee Nation Businesses. “Generations of Cherokees have kept that from being destroyed.”

Over time, the Cherokee National Archives has been moved from a basement room at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill due to aging infrastructure and need for updated environmental controls. The Tribal Council declared a state of emergency for the tribal archives in 2020 after the CN took ownership of the Heritage Center property, which remains closed for renovations.

At the new facility, a project of CNB, the archives are safe and secure, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said.

“That was one of our concerns with the aging Heritage Center building,” he added. “It just wasn’t equipped to take care of our records. But this facility is.”

The prized patent and 11,000 other historical items now reside within a 5,000-square-foot, fireproof and storm-resistant vault that also features environmental controls. But eventually, the archives will return to the Heritage Center, which is undergoing a transformation into what Hoskin envisions as “a world-class institution” with help from the reformed Cherokee National Historical Society.

“The work they do is vital and indispensable because they will guide us in a strategic plan for what is to come after this wonderful facility,” Hoskin said. “And what’s to come after this facility is to make sure that we recreate the Cherokee Heritage Center, right here in our capital city, in a way that serves us for generations to come.”

Inside the facility at Cherokee Springs Plaza, there is also a research station and two research rooms for artists, scholars and members of the community. In what will likely be a popular service, genealogy assistance will be offered by appointment on a first-come, first-served basis at the research center. 

“It’s not just a place to safely hold these archives and these artifacts, but it’s a place that’s user-friendly,” Hoskin said. “Citizens can come in and explore their own family’s history and may discover things they didn’t know. The public can come see our story and hear our story in a way they haven’t done before. For generations, with the exception of great efforts by the Heritage Center or the historical society and others, so much of our story has been told by others, and often it’s told poorly.”

To scheduled a genealogy appointment or for more information, call 918-456-6007.

The research center project, funded by the Heritage Center Act of 2020, has been more than a year in the works.