Safeguarding Our Heritage: Preserving Cherokee Nation

By Special Contributor posted 05-30-2018 15:29


By Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker

Editor's Note: The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Trustees Emeritus Award for Historic Site Stewardship recognizes success and innovation in historic preservation, management, and programming at historic sites. Want to submit a nomination for this year’s award? Learn more about the criteria and nomination process here. Deadline for 2019 is July 1. 

Historic preservation for Cherokee Nation means safeguarding our heritage and culture. It is a value that is deeply ingrained in us as Cherokees, across generations—and a responsibility that we all share as citizens of our communities. It reflects our past and heralds our future.

Grand reopening of Sequoyah's Cabin Museum. | Credit:

Cherokee Nation’s most endangered buildings teach us about the past of our people—the stories and histories of our ancestors who lived here and flourished before we were ever born. Receiving the National Trust for Historic Preservation Trustees Emeritus Award for Historic Site Stewardship was truly an honor. By recognizing our efforts thus far, it has also fueled our passion for projects to come.

Cherokee Nation is continuing to make concerted efforts to preserve, restore, and rehabilitate our most iconic and historic places that have played key roles in Cherokee history throughout northeast Oklahoma.

  • We have overseen the renovation of important cultural projects, including the Cherokee National Capitol. Removing more than 2,000 old and decaying bricks and replacing them with replica bricks and mortar strengthened the structure while maintaining its historic look. This effort, coupled with replacing the cupola atop the structure, has reinforced the Capitol’s place as Cherokee Nation’s most renowned building. Originally built in 1869 on the main town square of Tahlequah, this building housed the tribe’s executive and legislative offices until 1906. Soon it will be the crown jewel in the tribe’s growing museum offerings.
Exterior view of the restored Cherokee National Capitol. | Credit: 

  • We purchased Sequoyah’s Cabin from the Oklahoma Historical Society when the state was no longer able to operate this National Historic Landmark. The cabin, which was built in 1829, sits on a 200-acre site and hosts more than 12,000 visitors annually. By preventing the cabin’s closure, we are now able to tell the story of Sequoyah through a uniquely Cherokee perspective. Born in Tennessee around 1778, Sequoyah, also known as George Guess or George Gist, was a legendary statesman and the inventor of Cherokee syllabary. After experimenting with an alphabet for the Cherokee language, he completed it in the 1820s, making the Cherokees the first Indian tribe to develop a written alphabet. Literacy rates among Cherokees soared within just a few years of its creation.
Interior of Sequoyah's Cabin Museum. | Credit: 

  • We have partnered with Northeastern State University (NSU) to begin work on the rehabilitation of the school’s oldest and most historic building, Seminary Hall. Built in 1888 by Cherokee Nation, it was the first women’s institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi River. After a renovation and repurposing by NSU, Seminary Hall became a multipurpose building that highlights its cultural heritage and Cherokee roots.

We owe it to our children to make these investments and conservation efforts a priority today, so that tomorrow they may better know, understand and appreciate our iconic and historic treasures in Oklahoma.

Exterior of Northeastern State University Seminary Hall. | Credit: 

These places are more than brick and mortar; they are places where our ancestors struggled and thrived. That spirit dwells in all of these structures, all extraordinary places that are part of the fabric of our tribe and a tribute to those who were here before us. Preserving them is worth the time and investment. It is an important responsibility, and we take great pride in ensuring it is done well for future generations.


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