Great Smoky Mountains National Park is hosting a Cherokee touring exhibit, “Understanding our Past, Shaping our Future“, on Saturday, April 26 through Tuesday, May 27th at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The exhibit focuses on Cherokee language and culture, using sound recordings as the basis for presenting a coherent story in words and text. Acting Superintendent Pedro Ramos will welcome the community to a special sneak preview of the exhibit on Friday, April 25th from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
“We are honored to host this incredible exhibit that tells the story of our shared past,” said Ramos. “We cannot separate the story of the Cherokee people from the story of the park and we look forward to sharing this rich history in such a special way with our visitors.”
The content for the exhibit was developed, by design, with significant community input allowing a more personal Cherokee story to be told. Community teams held monthly discussions to develop exhibit themes and images. Rather than presenting a chronological history, teams developed a thematic approach to sharpen the Cherokee perspective focusing on Cherokee homeland, heritage sites, tourism, family, and community celebrations.
Much of the exhibit text was excerpted from conversations originally recorded in Cherokee instead of translating from English into Cherokee. A Cherokee speakers group, organized in cooperation with the Cherokee Language Program at Western Carolina University, met weekly at the Kituwah Academy where members were shown historic photographs and asked to comment on them. These conversations were transcribed, translated, and included on the fifteen panels that make up the exhibit. Re-recorded by language instructor Tom Belt, these conversations are archived in Hunter Library’s online digital collections at Western Carolina University.
The exhibit panels use smart phone technology and QR codes to link to conversations in the archived collections. By hitting the on-screen play button, an exhibit visitor can listen to the Cherokee syllabary as it is spoken. Members of the speakers’ group include: Myrtle Johnson, Edwin George, Eli George, Marie Junaluska, Sallie Smoker, Nannie Taylor, and J.C. Wachacha. Others who worked on the exhibit include: Roseanna Belt, Western Carolina University (WCU) Cherokee Center; Tom Belt, WCU Cherokee Language Program; Evelyn Conley, Indigenous Education Institute; Jeff Marley, Nantahala School for the Arts; Yona Wade, Cherokee Central School; Andrew Denson, Jane Eastman, and Hartwell Francis, WCU professors; Corrine Glesne, Asheville evaluator; and Anna Fariello, project director.
The touring exhibit is sponsored by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in partnership with Cherokee Central Schools, Southwestern Community College, and Western Carolina University. Funding was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Slated to travel to ten sites in the region, the exhibit places cultural interpretation in locations frequented by the public. “Understanding our Past, Shaping our Future” will later be on view at the Swain County Center for the Arts in Bryson City, Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville, Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Cashiers Symposium and Historical Society in Cashiers.
If planning to visit the exhibit you may want to note that the North Carolina side of the Smokies has a lot to offer. In addition to lots of outdoor adventures and fun, both Cherokee and Bryson City have some excellent restaurants. If planning an overnight stay during your visit, be sure to visit our Accommodations page to find the perfect cabin or resort on the North Carolina side of the Smokies.
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