The Cherokee Nation opened a National Research Center Wednesday that is housing the tribes' most important artifacts. Last year, the Cherokees identified problems at the Cherokee Heritage Center that left historic items vulnerable to storms, fire, and flooding. The new 5,000 square foot building has modern climate and fire systems. It’s part of the Cherokee Springs Plaza in Tahlequah.
The center has a secure vault accessible only to researchers, and a public area with genealogy information and assistance available by appointment. Besides the Research Center, the tribe has six historic sites and museums within the reservation.
The research center will house approximately 5,000 objects and 100,000 documents, including the land patent for the reservation in Indian Territory, and the petition Cherokees signed to oppose the removal. Modern art that carries on ancient traditions will be kept in storage as well.
Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. cut the ribbon for the center, which he said is the product of the wisdom of elders from the Cherokee Historical Society who protected the artifacts before there was funding or a tribal initiative to do so. He lamented that many irreplaceable items were lost during the forced removal, and they’re scattered in private collections and some public museums.
"So much of our story has been told by others, so often poorly and incompletely, and in this facility, people can come and hear our story in the way they ought to hear it,” said Hoskin.
The items were previously stored mostly in the basement of the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, but a year ago the tribe determined the building wasn’t appropriate for archival storage and decided to build a new vault.
The Heritage Center is closed while the tribe determines how to rebuild it into a modern museum. Travis Owens, the Vice President of Cultural Tourism for the Cherokees, said "The infrastructure there no longer supported the collection at the standards we know the collection needed to be preserved, and this was a strategic move to keep the collection safe and provide public access."