TAHLEQUAH – The 70th annual Cherokee National Holiday theme is “Forging a Legacy: Seven Decades of Cherokee Fellowship,” and will feature a return to in-person activities and some virtual events for people who are not able to travel to Tahlequah during Labor Day weekend.

Traditionally, the holiday attracts more than 100,000 visitors from across the country. The annual celebration was adapted in 2020 and 2021 to include a number of virtual and limited in-person events in the interest of public health due to COVID-19.

Cherokee Nation officials are continuously monitoring COVID-19 conditions and will make any necessary changes to holiday events in order to protect public health.

“We plan and do our due diligence for this event because there are thousands of people that attend from different localities and across the country. We consider in our planning not just people who attend from the reservation but people who come from California, New York, the Carolinas and all of that,” Cherokee National Holiday Director Austin Patton said. “It’s really a tough moving target to figure out what the current situation is in those areas, and that’s why we have to take our planning and our precautions more seriously than what you do for a typical event where you know the only attendees will be from the local area. It’s just not like that at the holiday.”

Patton added planning holiday events has included ways to make events safer.

“Of course, we will welcome a lot of people back in person for these events. We’ll have over 50,000 face masks to hand out to folks, and there will be face masks at every single venue, and every single vendor will have face masks. We will have signage and handwashing stations and hand sanitization stations placed strategically,” he said.

More virtual events have been added to the holiday, Patton said, not necessarily just to deal with the possibility of COVID-19, but to use technology to allow more people who can’t travel to Tahlequah on Labor Day weekend to take part in holiday events remotely.

“We have more virtual events than we’ve ever had. We are doing our ‘Cherokee Talks Series.’ This is going to be a really cool series that I’m excited about. This is going to be both live-streamed and available to attend in person. Essentially, what Cherokee Talks is, it’s very similar to the look and feel of the TED Talks presentations,” Patton said. “These are going to be on issues that are impactful and important to Cherokee people right now and some fun mixed in, too, so it’s not all serious – everything from history and preservation to talks about the Cherokee language and community values to storytelling and traditional cooking; a lot of amazing topics by talented and professional speakers. Those will all be live-streamed over two days, on Saturday and Sunday.”

He added the powwow and other events will be live-streamed and pre-recorded content also will be shared. Also, all of the events that are recorded from a live-stream will be available later on a subsection of the Cherokee Nation’s YouTube channel in case people miss some events or want to relive some holiday events. People can also watch some events that were recorded during the 68th and 69th Cherokee National Holidays, Patton said.

The Cherokee National Holiday event has evolved since it began 70 years ago, Patton said, but for people who don’t know why thousands of Cherokees gather in Tahlequah to celebrate, it’s an annual celebration and commemoration of when Cherokee Nation leaders signed the Cherokee Constitution on Sept. 6, 1839.

“That was a big year. It signified the end of the Trail of Tears and the Act of Union in July. In September was when we signed the Cherokee Constitution, and that’s what we commemorate,” he said. “Of course, now this is a homecoming celebration. We have thousands of citizens off the reservation who come home to visit their families, to reconnect with their culture and traditions here on the reservation.”

He said for people who don’t know much about Cherokee history and culture, the holiday is a great way to learn more about Cherokee people and their values.

“You don’t have to be a Cherokee citizen to attend. That’s a very common question I get. We encourage anyone and everyone to attend this event because it is a priority for us to get that message out and to show people that despite the challenges Cherokee people have faced throughout their history and the mere fact this holiday is a commemoration of a momentous time period…it is an event where you can come and learn about the will and tenacity to continue to survive and even thrive to protect our tribal sovereignty.”

Follow the latest news and announcements about the Cherokee National Holiday on the official Facebook page at Facebook.com/cherokeenationalholiday.

For more information, visit thecherokeeholiday.com