VINITA – Located along Interstate 44 and historic Route 66, Cherokee Nation and city leaders on Sept. 27 announced plans for a new cultural and tourism facility in Craig County.
The Anna Mitchell Cultural and Welcome Center, named for the late Cherokee National Treasure Anna Belle Mitchell, is being repurposed from the former 8-acre Vinita Country Club. The two-story, 9,400-square-foot space will include a gift shop, exhibit gallery, grab-and-go café and have space for cultural classes and events.
“I think it’s one of the most important things we can do. Cherokee Nation has an amazing story to tell whether it’s in the form of history or culture or art, and the more we can tell that the better,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “Having a physical place so close to major thoroughfares, I-44 and historic Route 66, it means that a whole new group of people over time will come and see the Cherokee story, learn about the Cherokee story.”
He added that it will be a gateway for visitors to learn about Cherokee culture and history.
Growing up in Vinita, Hoskin said that he did not see a lot of CN presence.
“It means a great deal to me personally,” he said. “Growing up I think I noticed so much of what Cherokee Nation does is centered in Tahlequah, which makes a lot of sense. That’s where our capital is. That’s where we spend a long time investing. It only makes though over time to spread the opportunities out.”
Named for her mother, Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez said it means a great deal to her that the facility honors Mitchell.
“So it means not only a great deal because it’s going to be named for my mother, but because I grew up here and I’ve been in this building a few times over the years and always hoped it would be something special, never dreaming that it would be a Cherokee cultural center,” she said.
Vazquez added that while construction was underway at the facility prior to the announcement, workers unearthed a bed of clay that was the same type her mother used when reviving the Cherokee art form of pottery.
“It is exactly like the clay my mom used from the place that is no longer accessible,” Vazquez said. “So I think there’s a lot of great things at work here that the Lord brought about and this is just one of them.”
Mitchell is known for restoring the Southeastern-style of pottery back into the Cherokee culture. The tribe’s pottery tradition was not continued after removal to Indian Territory in the 1830s until Mitchell began making pottery in the 1960s.
Mitchell was designated a Cherokee National Treasure in 1982 and died in 2012 at age 85.
More than a welcome center, Hoskin said local residents will be able to experience classes of different Cherokee arts forms while tourists will learn about Cherokee culture and history.
“For tourists who are coming down I-44 or historic Route 66 that are spending their tourism dollars, I think they are going to see this facility and realize it’s a place to see authentic Native American history and culture, of course, of the great Cherokee Nation,” he said.
The facility, located at 953 E. Illinois Ave. is slated for completion in December.