PARK HILL — As the length of its closure grows, some people are wondering when the Cherokee Heritage Center will reopen.
Travis Owens, vice president of Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism, said the center will reopen with the implementation of CHC’s strategic plan – providing strategic direction and future planning for the site and programs – which was officially adopted by the CN Historical Society.
“The next step is the site master plan, which will go out to tender later this summer and will be fully informed by the strategic plan,” Owens said. “These plans will focus on the development of a renewed Cherokee Heritage Center at the scale of other tribal and regional facilities with an estimated area of between 80,000 and 120,000 and a targeted grand opening of 2023.”
In early 2020, the CHC was closed with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this closure, center operations were transferred from CNHC to Cherokee Nation Businesses. CNB received the 44-acre site and all buildings, equipment, collections, documents, and other assets, and the CN Historical Society was reformed into a seven-member council of Cherokee citizens.
In the aftermath of the pandemic, supply chains were impacted, but Owens said those issues did not impact the timeline for reopening the CHC.
“CNB is currently working on master site planning, including completing its due diligence site monitoring the property and documenting historical and cultural elements relevant to preservation,” Owens said. “The CHC property includes the original site of the Cherokee Female Seminary, and we must take all necessary steps to ensure these historic elements are respected and incorporated into future plans.”
The Cherokee Heritage Center was established in 1963 by the CNHC to preserve and promote Cherokee culture. It houses the Cherokee National Archives, documents and cultural artifacts dating back to the 18th century.
After the CN Tribal Council unanimously passed the Cherokee Heritage Act of 2020, the archive was declared a state of emergency by the council due to outdated infrastructure and environmental controls at the storage site. . Subsequently, CNB sought a new temporary space for archives and cultural collections.
The National Cherokee Research Center was opened to provide safe storage of CHC’s Cherokee-related historical documents and cultural artifacts, and to improve public access to tribal records. The center is 5,000 square feet with a fireproof and stormproof vault with environmental controls. There are also a pair of research rooms.
The NRC currently holds over 11,000 historical documents and artifacts. Notable pieces in the collection include a land patent signed by President Martin Van Buren in 1838, which provided CN with approximately 14 million acres in Indian Territory; furniture belonging to Principal Chef John Ross from the mid-19th century; and an array of contemporary and historic art from many Cherokee artists.
Despite the closure, CHC has resumed many of its cultural activities, including its annual Trail of Tears art exhibit and sale and honoring Cherokee National Treasures. Updates are also posted on Facebook; search for “cherokeehc”.
“The Cherokee Heritage Center has been a beloved touchstone for the Cherokee and a vital educational force in the region. Generations of Cherokee families have created lasting memories there,” Owens said. “There is a need, however, for substantial updates and changes, as well as the protection of important historical resources on the site. The founders of the CHC were visionaries for their time, but the circumstances, community needs and cultural tourism landscape of the Cherokee Nation have changed dramatically. This new vision is deeply rooted and informed by the legacy of CHC’s founders, members and staff.