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Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism Department

B

efore my recent trip to the Cherokee Nation in Northeastern Oklahoma, I confess that I

had only a foggy idea who the Cherokees were. I was practically clueless about their history, language and achievements. Thanks to an ambitious program launched three years ago by the Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism Department, word is spreading on what this 14-county enclave offers the group traveler. Four day-long options—the “Cherokee History Tour,” Will Rogers History Tour,” Civil War History Tour” and “Cherokee Old Settler Tour”—shed light on the Cherokee people and can be tailored to any group. And new tourism developments continue to unfold. The tourism department has a 25-seat van available for tours and can provide a step-on guide for groups with their own vehicles. Besides the four standard tour itineraries,

OklahOma’S

Cherokee

heritage Tours and historical attractions spotlight a remarkable people

it can custom-design programs (for 10 or more) to focus on traditional Cherokee cuisine, basket weaving, pottery, native plants, storytelling, genealogy and other subjects. 26 February 2012

Cherokee Nation tourism staff members shed light on attractions like the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum in Tahlequah.


After the Navajos, the Cherokees are the largest group of American Indians. Oklahoma, with 39 tribal headquarters, has more Indians than any other state. Oklahoma license plates bear the words Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism Department

“Native America,” and you’ll see many plates with “Cherokee Nation,” “Muscogee Nation” and other tribal designations. The Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, six miles from Tahlequah, tells the Cherokee story in a nutshell. It’s composed of three distinct elements— Visitors learn about traditional Cherokee crafts at the Cherokee Heritage Center.

the recently renovated Cherokee National Museum, Ancient Village and

The Cherokees, who initially lived in

Native American bilingual newspaper,

the Southeastern U.S. before being

the Cherokee Phoenix, reflects how pro-

The museum’s centerpiece is the Trail

forcibly removed by the federal govern-

gressive Cherokee society was in the

of Tears exhibit, which explores the tragic

ment to make room for white settlers,

19th century.

exodus of some 16,000 Cherokees

Adams Corner Rural Village.

had developed an advanced civilization

The Cherokee Nation jurisdiction,

forced from their homes in Tennessee,

that placed a high emphasis on educa-

which is not a reservation, covers all of

North Carolina and other Southeastern

tion. Their constitution was modeled

eight counties and parts of six more in

states in 1838-39. They were rounded up

after the U.S. form of government. Un-

an area encompassing 149,000 Chero-

and put in unsanitary stockades before

like the Plains Indians, who moved from

kee citizens, who carry a citizenship

boarding wagons for the long journey to

place to place, the Cherokees were

card, or “blue card.” Its capital is Tahle-

Oklahoma, then known as Indian Terri-

farmers and merchants.

quah, where street signs are in both

tory. Thousands died of hunger, disease

English and Cherokee. The Cherokees

and heat, and were buried on the trail.

Molly Jarvis, the Cherokee Nation’s vice president of cultural tourism, said the tribe does not fit Hollywood’s stereotypical depiction of Indians

have their own police force, court

The Ancient Village, one of the

system and other units of

Heritage Center’s outdoor museums,

tribal government.

wearing headdresses and living

settlement, featuring demonstrations of The Will Rogers Memorial Museum honors the famous Cherokee from Oklahoma.

in tepees. “That just doesn’t apply to Cherokee culture.”

depicts Cherokee life before European various crafts, from cooking and gardening to arrowhead, pottery and basket

She said the Cherokees were a mound-building people and lived in villages of log-andmud

houses

surrounded

by

fence-like structures. The more affluent even lived in plantation-style homes. The first written Native American language, based on a syllabary (alphabet) of 86 characters, was introduced by a Cherokee in 1819 and led to an immediate increase in literacy rates among Randy Mink

Cherokee speakers. The Cherokees also established the first institute of higher learning for women west of the Mississippi. And the printing of the first LeisureGroupTravel.com

Frontier military history comes to life at this army fort established in 1824.

February 2012 27


on location: west â?– making. Groups can arrange a stickball game or blowgun shoot. The village has been undergoing improvements the past two years and final construction will be complete by this May. Adams Corner is a circa-1890 pioneer MEMORIAL MUSEUM Monday - Saturday 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. Sunday 12 - 6 p.m., last ticket sold daily at 5 p.m. Outdoor Symbolic Memorial grounds are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week MUSEUM ADMISSION Group Rates (15 or more) Adults $10 s Seniors (62+) $8 Military (With ID) $8 Students $5 (Chaperone ratio for free admission is 7 to 1)

Admission for bus drivers and group tour operators FREE 620 N Harvey Ave s Oklahoma City, OK 73102 405.235.3313 or 888.542.HOPE (4673)

town simulating a rural Cherokee community prior to Oklahoma statehood. Original and replica buildings include a church, house, school and general store. For groups, Cherokee Tourism can arrange a traditional hog fry at Adams Corner or other locations. The meal, a staple of family reunions, political campaigns and other events, consists of fried pork, beans, vegetables and fry bread. Nearby, the John Ross Museum is the newest Cherokee attraction. Housed in a former school, it highlights the life of fair-skinned, blue-eyed John Ross, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation from

OklahomaCityNationalMemorial.org

28 February 2012

1828-1866. Also in Park Hill is the 1844

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ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: For a sampling of memorable quotes from Oklahoma favorite son Will Rogers, log on to http://leisuregrouptravel.com/?p=26170.

Murrell Home, the only surviving antebellum plantation home in Oklahoma.

Catoosa is home to the Hard Rock

For groups seeking to add a fascinat-

Hotel & Casino Tulsa, the largest of

ing historical slant to an Oklahoma itin-

Sights in downtown Tahlequah include

eight casinos operated by Cherokee

erary—and have fun at the same

the Cherokee National Capitol and

Nation Entertainment. A third hotel

time—the Cherokee Nation has thought

Cherokee National Supreme Court

tower, to be completed later this year,

of everything.

Building. The latter, the oldest govern-

will add 100 suites and 55,000 square

For more information, contact the

ment building in Oklahoma (1844), has

feet of entertainment and gaming

Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism De-

exhibits on the Cherokee judicial system,

space, including a smoke-free casino

partment at 877-779-6977, cherokee-

Cherokee language and Cherokee

floor and hotel rooms.

tourismok.com. LGT

Advocate newspaper (once printed in the building). The Cherokee National Prison Museum opens this spring. Fort Gibson Historic Site, another area attraction, was an army fort established in 1824 to keep peace in Indian Territory. Costumed interpreters can do various living history programs for groups. Themes range from music and gardening to the Civil War and Buffalo Soldiers. Cherokee Tourism’s “Will Rogers History Tour” celebrates the life of Will Rogers, Oklahoma’s favorite son. Part Cherokee and proud of it, he was the leading celebrity of his day until he was killed in a 1935 plane crash in Alaska. The Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore is one of the largest museums in the country dedicated to someone who

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was not a politician or military hero. Exhibits, video clips and a movie narrated by Bob Hope showcase Rogers’ accomplishments as a champion roper, radio personality, Hollywood actor, newspaper columnist, aviation enthusiast, polo player and friend of U.S. presidents. Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch is a short drive from Claremore, near the town of Oologah. Inside the house, visitors see the log-walled room where Rogers was born in 1875 and view a black-and-white video narrated by Will Rogers Jr. A chuckwagon picnic lunch under the trees can be arranged, and the barn has party space for groups. Obtain Oklahoma visitor guides and itineraries and contact group-friendly suppliers directly at leisuregrouptravel.com/instant-info

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T he O kl ahoma St ate C apitol D ome and the O kl ahoma C it y National Memor ial & Mu seum

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Oklahoma