Tahlequah Daily Press

April 11, 2013

Connecting to the past

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — When people think about 21st century technology - cellphones, “cloud” storage, tablets and social media - they generally think of the future, rather than connecting with the past.

“Technology Future, Technology Past: A Woven Link” is the theme for the 41st annual Symposium on the American Indian, which opened Wednesday at Northeastern State University.

The event is organized by NSU’s Center for Tribal Studies and the American Indian Heritage Committee. In collaboration with the Cherokee Heritage Center, this year’s event will highlight the 50th anniversary of the Cherokee National Historical Society.

NSU President Dr. Steve Turner, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma Chief George Wickliffe opened the event, and talked about how technology helps to preserve native language, culture and heritage.

“Tahlequah and the Cherokee Nation are so intertwined with NSU,” said Baker. “NSU began as the first institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi for women of any race, which was technology at the time.”

Baker said he remembered being a senior at NSU when the first symposium was held.

“At that time, we had one computer in the basement of the technology building and it took up the entire basement,” said Baker. “Today, my cell phone is faster and has more memory than that computer had. Our Cherokee children can now text using the Cherokee syllabary on their phones. With this technology and our partnerships with Google and Apple, we’re taking our language farther than ever before. In turn, we’re preserving our language, culture and heritage. Embracing technology will take us farther than we’ve ever been. Sequoyah’s syllabary was cutting-edge technology at the time, and we’re carrying that into the 21st century.”

The keynote speaker Wednesday was Charles “Chief” Boyd, Cherokee, the official architect for the Cherokee National Historical Society and CNHS board member.

Boyd designed what, in 1962, was known as the Cherokee Cultural Center, but found a passion for architecture in 1945.

“I was raised in West Texas, and spent summers in the mountains of New Mexico,” said Boyd. “I used to haul wood for an older man in New Mexico, and remember spending time laughing with him at the pictures he drew. That man was Al Capp, the cartoonist who created ‘Li’l Abner. Spending time with him developed my interest in drawing, and finally, architecture.”

In 1958, NSU didn’t offer a degree in architecture, and Boyd decided to attend the University of Colorado.

“In 1962, I began working on my thesis, which required getting someone to be my client,” said Boyd. “I contacted [CN Chief] W.W. Keeler. It was at that time Keeler and others had been talking about developing the Cherokee National Historical Society, so I asked if I could design a museum for the tribe.”

Keeler agreed, after a face-to-face meeting in Oklahoma, to be Boyd’s client, and put him in touch with Martin Hagerstrand – and the design for the ancient village began.

“Just to give you some perspective on technology in 1962, we used slide rules, there were no calculators, no computers and all [designs] were done by hand,” said Boyd. “The first project for the CNHS was a model of the Cherokee Cultural Center and original archives, which was a seven-sided structure to represent the seven clans. By 1966, we began work on the ancient village and the site for the archives and museum.”

“We constructed the village using all full-blood Cherokee workers,” said Boyd. “The only person who spoke English, I think, was the foreman. I gave them the illustrations and they built the structures directly from the drawings.”

In 1968, construction began on the amphitheater.

“That design, too, was hand-drawn,” said Boyd. “I researched Cherokee pottery and basketry and incorporated those design elements in the rain shelter and the roof. We wanted the theater to be used without sound equipment, which is why it has such a steep slope. It worked out well, as sound travels upward, and was modeled on the Greek theaters.”

By 1972, Boyd had moved to a cut-and-paste technology, and it was from these plans the Cherokee National Museum was developed.

In 1977, Boyd formed Graphcon Computer Co.

“This company has been sold several times, but some of the original employees still remain,” said Boyd. “They document and print designs for NASA. As Computer Assisted Drawing developed, I was approached by Beaver Log Homes who asked for our help. They could build a log structure faster than they could draw one. We took that on, and before long, we were designing 80 percent of the prefabricated log homes in the country. And I’m just an old boy from Tulsa.”

Boyd’s goal is to work with 100 tribes before retiring, and finds working with Indian nations exciting.

“I get blessed with the opportunity to study cultures,” said Boyd. “Native American tribes are very diverse and very fascinating. I enjoy designing projects that develop pride and a sense of ownership in what they do.”

Boyd has designed a number of casinos, although he is not a gamer.

“I’m not a gamer, but I know what gamers like to do,” said Boyd. “I’m excited about what gaming does for Indian tribes, as far as economic independence is concerned. Tribes get a lot of federal money, but they’re restricted on how they can use it. With gaming money, the tribes get to decide how to use the money.”

Boyd pointed out the Cherokees have always stressed the importance of education. He has three daughters, who have accumulated 13 degrees among them. His eldest daughter recently received a National Institute of Health grant - the largest of its kind to be used to study diabetes. His middle child is a helicopter nurse with degrees in heart surgery and heart trauma. His youngest daughter got her first two degrees in Russian and international relations, and finally became an attorney. She now works for the U.S. Department of Justice in Colorado, representing tribes in water rights and timber rights cases.

“Get your education, look to the future, and don’t set limits,” said Boyd.