Tahlequah historian and retired teacher Beth Herrington believes that to embrace the future, you first have to remember the past.
Herrington, along with Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce Tourism Director Kate Kelly, provided the narrative for a history/tourism tour of Tahlequah to members of Tahlequah Leadership Class XVI Thursday.
Leadership Tahlequah is a Chamber-sponsored program with the mission of establishing a leadership foundation for the city. The first class met in 1997 for four sessions. Today, classes meet for 10 sessions, with subject matter ranging from state, county and city government; history and tourism, utilities, health care, public schools, tribal affiliation, and Northeastern State University.
This year’s class, dubbed “Sweet 16,” has 17 members.
“The goal of Leadership Tahlequah is to teach people in the community about all the different spokes that make the Tahlequah wheel go ‘round and ‘round,’” said Chamber Executive Director David Moore.
Herrington stressed the importance of history when looking toward the future.
“It’s so important for people who live here to know what the history is and what the vision of Tahlequah was to founders of the city,” said Herrington. “If you don’t know what the vision was [at inception], you won’t know how to move forward.”
Herrington coined Tahlequah’s slogan “City of Firsts,” and proudly points out the many “firsts” west of the Mississippi when giving tours. According to Herrington, Tahlequah is home to the first newspaper, the Cherokee Advocate; the first public school, the first Masonic Lodge and the first telephone switchboard, to name a few.
On Thursday, Leadership Class XVI toured a number of historic sites, including the Cherokee Courthouse Square, Tahlequah Cemetery, Ross Cemetery, the Murrell Home and the Thompson House.
“We’ll show the growth of Tahlequah since 1839, and talk about the history of business, health care and education to give everyone a well-rounded sense of how the city has progressed,” said Herrington.
Members of Leadership Tahlequah Class XVI include, Mindy Barnard, Phil Bridgmon, Mike Corn, Pauline Corn, Angy Dodd, Rick Harper, Merissa Hutchins, Eric Pool, Suzi Price, Jaycie Smith, Shay Smith, Lynn Thompson, Jerrod Venderheiden, Tanya Wagnon, Tanya Wilson, Jasen Wright and Steven Wright. Members come from a diverse group of careers, from education to business.
Also on Thursday, the Cherokee Heritage Center unveiled the name of its new outdoor living exhibit set, to open May 2, 2013.
“Diligwa” will replaced the Tsalagi Ancient Village, which first opened in 1967. Tsalagi was originally designed as an interpretive area to showcase Cherokee daily life, prior to European contact.
“The new outdoor living exhibit will provide guests with an enhanced experience of authentic Cherokee life and history,” said Barbara L. Girty, interim deputy executive director at CHC. “What’s now presented in the ancient village is limited by the research and resources that were available in its day. Diligwa will be the most authentic Cherokee experience based on life in the early 1700s.”
Diligwa is a derivative of Tellico, a village in the east that was once the principal Cherokee town and is now under water. Tellico was the Cherokee Nation capital and center of commerce before the emergence of Echota in Monroe County, Tenn.
Tellico was often referred to as the “wild rice place,” and became synonymous with the native grain that grew in the flat open spaces of east Tennessee. According to legend, when the Cherokees first arrived in Indian Territory, the native grasses that grew in the open spaces around the foothills of the Ozarks reminded them of the grassy open areas of Tellico. They called their new home “Di li gwa,” Tah-le-quah, or Teh-li-co, “the open place where the grass grows.”
The new village will provide visitors the chance to experience Cherokee life in the early 18th century, and will feature 19 wattle-and-daub structures, 14 interpretive stations, and a detailed historic landscape set on four acres of land adjacent to the Heritage Center.
The overall village includes eight residential sites, each with a Cherokee summer house and winter house, a corn crib, a garden and additional landscaping. The public complex consists of the primary council house and summer council pavilion overlooking a large plaza that serves as the center of community activity. Two recreation areas are also included, a marble field and stickball field, to showcase the Cherokee games still played today.
During the unveiling ceremony, CN Principal Chief Bill John Baker said he is proud to promote and preserve Cherokee culture.
“I remember coming out and visiting the ancient village as a child,” said Baker. “And somehow, even then, I knew our people didn’t live in mud huts. The old village was the best representation of life we had at the time, but the new site truly is a display from archaeological findings.”
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