Blue Star Museums Blog (Archive)

Exploring the Cherokee Heritage Center

The Cherokee Heritage Center (CHC) is the premier cultural center for Cherokee tribal history, culture and the arts, and is located in the heart of the Cherokee Nation on a 49-acre complex in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Established in 1963 by the Cherokee National Historical Society’s Board of Trustees, the not-for-profit is committed to preserving, promoting, and teaching Cherokee history and culture while hosting dynamic educational programs, a reconstructed historic village, engaging exhibits, and scholarly research stimulating interest in the enduring legacy of the Cherokee people.

The CHC is the repository for the Cherokee National Archives, the nation’s foremost collection of historic tribal-related documents and artifacts, cataloging the rich history of the Cherokee people from the 1700s through present day. It is also home to the Cherokee Family Research Center, assisting Cherokee descendants in reconnecting with their lineage.

The Cherokee Heritage Center is situated on the grounds of the original Cherokee Female Seminary, which is one of the first institutions of higher learning for women west of the Mississippi, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service has designated the CHC as the interpretive site for the western terminus of the Trail of Tears for the Cherokees and other tribes forcibly removed to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, during the 1800s.

A variety of attractions are featured at the CHC including the Tsa-La-Gi Ancient Village and the Trail of Tears exhibit. After more than 40 years, the CHC is currently building a new outdoor living exhibit that represents a transformation of the original Tsa-La-Gi Ancient Village, which opened in 1967, to an updated interpretive village showcasing everyday Cherokee life at European contact.

CHC's Trail of Tears exhibit. Photo courtesy of the Cherokee Heritage Center

The Cherokee Heritage Center, together with the National Parks Services, presents the Trail of Tears exhibit, which depicts the forced removal of Cherokee ancestors from their indigenous territory to Indian Territory, now present-day Oklahoma. The exhibit is staged in six galleries, each of which, through documentation and artifacts, concentrates on specific aspects of Cherokee history and culture, including 1) Pre-Removal: Cherokee life before the Trail of Tears; 2) Court Battles: Events and legal issues leading up to forced removal; 3) Prisoners With No Crime: Imprisoned in stockades before the Trail; 4) Many Tribes, Many Trails: The United States forced removal of other indigenous tribes; 5) Removal: Geographical route of and events along the Trail of Tears; and 6) Starting Over: Rebuilding the Cherokee Nation from scratch with the ability to adapt, thrive, and excel.

The world's tallest Cherokee basket. Photo courtesy of the Cherokee Heritage Center

Each year, the Cherokee Heritage Center continues its commitment to preserving and honoring Cherokee culture by offering a variety of art shows and exhibitions, education programs and cultural classes. The Cherokee Heritage Center’s Cherokee Baskets---History Woven in Art exhibit features baskets by two Cherokee National Treasures, Bessie Russell and Kathy Van Buskirk. The exhibit also presents the history of Cherokee basket weaving and features numerous baskets including one that survived the Trail of Tears, as well as baskets of contemporary design. The world’s tallest Cherokee basket, standing more than eight feet tall and with a base of 45 inches, is also on display throughout the Cherokee Baskets exhibition, which runs daily through August 19th.

Reflection by Dan Corley (Cherokee Nation). The piece was the grand prize winner in the 41st annual Trail of Tears Art Show. Photo courtesy of the Cherokee Heritage Center

The 41st Annual Trail of Tears Art Show and Sale ran April 20-May 20 and featured authentic Native-American art in Oklahoma’s longest continuing Native-American art show. This year’s annual exhibition included 87 Native-American artists from 13 tribal nations featuring 145 art pieces. With 35 winners in eight categories, highlights of the show included Dan Corley (Cherokee Nation) 2012, grand prize winner for Reflection; Roy Boney (Cherokee Nation) 2012, first place in painting category for I Am Hiding Her. I Am Lying; Shan Goshorn (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) 2012, first place in graphics category for High Stakes: Tribes' Choice 2; and Troy Jackson (Cherokee Nation) 2012, first place in sculpture category for Upholding Tradition.

Students taking part in the CHC's Indian Territory Days. Photo courtesy of the Cherokee Heritage Center

Education is a major component of the Cherokee Heritage Center’s mission and each year, Indian Territory Days is presented to more than 500 students from grades K-12. The outdoor cultural classes feature interactive curriculum and games centered on Cherokee lifestyle during the 1890s, including craft demonstrations in loom weaving, pottery, basket making, and finger weaving. Traditional Cherokee games include blowgun shooting, stickball, marbles, and chunkey. More than 15 Cherokee cultural stations are available throughout the grounds that feature demonstrations, traditional games, Cherokee language, and storytellers.

A woman learns basket weaving during a cultural class at CHC. Photo courtesy of the Cherokee Heritage Center

Cultural classes at the CHC are designed to teach traditional Cherokee arts. Each class features a historical overview of the craft. Beginning Pottery focuses on the history of Cherokee pottery and the essentials of building Cherokee pots; Cherokee Feather Capes explores the history and techniques of feather cape-making; Beginning Cherokee Beadwork provides the basic elements and history of Cherokee beadwork; Double-Walled Round Reed Basketry provides a unique focus on the history and making of double-walled baskets; Flat Reed Basketry studies the technique and background of baskets made from flat reeds; and Cherokee Moccasins featuring center-seamed moccasins, a style used by the Cherokees.

The Cherokee Heritage Center is located at 21192 S. Keeler Drive, Park Hill, Oklahoma. For information about hours, prices, and upcoming programs during the 2012 season, please contact the Cherokee Heritage Center at 888-999-6007, email at, or visit


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