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Center of Attention

The heritage of the Cherokee is crucial to the history of Oklahoma. And a visit to the Cherokee Heritage Center helps educate visitors to a harsh time period for the tribe and honor those who endured.

Hannah Gray Gordon
February 15, 2017

If you’re looking for an authentic cultural experience close to home, nothing quite compares to a visit to the Cherokee Heritage Center (CHC) located in Tahlequah. This nonprofit organization rests in the center of the Cherokee Nation and highlights the tribe’s history, culture and art.

Having a solid understanding of historical events and cultures such as the Cherokee Nation is vital to improving our nation and ourselves.

During the 1800s, Cherokees, along with other nations, were forced to walk along the Trail of Tears, suffering through miles and months of hardship, lack of food and water, illness and abuse. They were relocated in this fashion to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.

“The National Park Service has designated the Center as the interpretive site for the western terminus of the Trail of Tears,” says Tonia Weavel, interim director of the Cherokee Heritage Center. The Center houses the Cherokee National Archives, a collection of historical tribal documents and artifacts gathered from the 1700s through present day.

Established in 1963 by the Cherokee National Historical Society, the center preserves a variety of cultural elements. The museum features a gallery for rotating shows and exhibits and houses a gift shop and the Trail of Tears exhibit. The grounds of the Center were formerly the Cherokee Female Seminary, one of the first higher learning institutions for western women. Various events occur throughout the year to promote the organization and further educate visitors.

If you enjoy living art exhibits, the Center features Diligwa, an authentic portrayal of life as a Cherokee in 1710. The original Diligwa was the primary Cherokee town located in Tennessee. Positioned on 4 acres proximate to the Center’s main building, the CHC exhibit displays 19 wattle and daub buildings and 14 interpretive stations. Cherokee games are played on two game areas: a marble field and stickball field. The exhibit was opened in 2013 and creates an in-person experience of early 1800s life as a Cherokee. Stations inside the village also include stickball, basket making, flint knapping, blowguns and the dugout canoe.

Adams Corner is a second living art exhibit which was opened in 1979. “[It] depicts life following the settlement of Cherokees in Tahlequah,” says Weavel. Visitors can see a traditional log cabin, the storekeeper’s house and the weaver’s cottage. The Adams Corner General Store provides a look into the operation of a merchant business during the 1800s and sells old-fashioned merchandise. The exhibit also features the One-Room Swimmer School House, the New Hope Church and the Smokehouse. Nofire Farms contains livestock such as chickens, horses and cows.

‍Established in 1963 by the Cherokee National Historical Society, the Cherokee Heritage Center preserves a variety of cultural elements.

Visitors won’t want to miss the group tours hosted by CHC. Groups can choose from a selection of tour add-ons including an arrowhead hunt where visitors can search for commercially produced arrowheads — limit of two arrowheads per person applies — above ground, cornhusk dolls, making pinch pots in the pottery class, and storytelling that reveals Cherokee legends and sacred stories.

CHC holds educational events in the spring and fall. “These events are known as Ancient Cherokee Days and Indian Territory Days,” says Weavel. The Indian Territory Days occur around March and are geared especially toward students. Numerous stations display a wide variety of educational aspects of the Cherokee tribe, including demonstrations of pottery making, basket and finger weaving, and participation in Cherokee cultural games.

The Ancient Cherokee Days is held in October and also holds several interactive educational stations, storytelling and more through which students can experience Cherokee life in the 1700s.

The annual Trail of Tears Art Show and Sale begins in April and ends in May. Vendors display their arts and crafts, which must adhere to a rules and guidelines set, and visitors are given a ballot on which to vote for their favorite pieces. Awards given include CNE Emerging Artists, the Bill Rabbit Legacy award, the Betty Scraper Garner Elder award and People’s Choice.

The CHC gift shop, located inside the museum, holds something for everyone, such as paintings and other artwork, clothing and souvenirs. All items are unique and authentic to the Cherokee heritage, and provide visitors with the chance to take a taste of the CHC home with them.

Cherokee Heritage Center
21192 S. Keeler Dr. | Park Hill
Winter Hours (Week after Labor Day until week before Memorial Day)
Sunday-Monday: Closed
Tuesday-Saturday: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Summer Hours (Memorial Day through Labor Day)
Monday-Saturday: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sunday: Closed