By TEDDYE SNELL
American Indians are often referred to as the “First Americans,” but it wasn’t until 1990 that November was designated American Indian Heritage Month in the United States.
According to a report by the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution, President George H.W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month. Similar proclamations under variants on the name have been issued each year since 1994.
Tahlequah is the heart of the Cherokee Nation, and is home to the largest American Indian tribe in the country. Northeastern State University and the tribe are inexorably linked, with NSU’s foundation stemming from the Cherokee National Female Seminary, which dates to pre-statehood.
To celebrate the tribe’s history and culture, the Cherokee Nation has a number of special events slated for November, and Principal Chief Bill John Baker encourages everyone to take part in one way or another.
“As we celebrate Native American Heritage this month, it is only fitting that we share our Cherokee history and heritage,” said Baker. “The Cherokee Nation’s story is told in its museums. I encourage everyone to take advantage of the free admission to visit all three of our museums and learn more about our culture and our people.”
Museums spotlighted in November include the Cherokee National Prison Museum, The Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum and the John Ross Museum.
Originally built in 1844, the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum, 122 E. Keetoowah St., is Oklahoma’s oldest public building. The site features three historic aspects: the Cherokee judicial system, the two Cherokee newspapers and the tribe’s language.
The Cherokee National Prison Museum, 124 E. Choctaw St., was the only penitentiary in Indian Territory from 1875 to 1901. The interpretive site and museum show visitors how law and order operated in Indian Territory and features a working blacksmith area and reconstructed gallows.
The John Ross Museum, 22366 S. 530 Road in Park Hill, highlights the life of the principal chief who served the Cherokees for more than 38 years. It houses exhibits and interactive displays of the Trail of Tears and Civil War.
Catherine Foreman Gray, CN history and preservation officer, recently announced a series of lectures available throughout the month of November to mark the occasion.
“Native American Heritage Month is the perfect time to educate the general public about the Cherokee Nation, its citizens, rich history and culture, and significant contributions we continue to make to this country,” said Foreman-Gray.
The series will be held at 2 p.m., each Tuesday in November, in the Tribal Council chambers at the W.W. Keeler Complex, 17675 S. Muskogee Ave. They will also be live-streamed at www.cherokee.org.
Topics include the Cherokee Nation River Cane Initiative, “Cherokee Language: From Talking Leaves to Pixels,” and Cherokee Nation and the Civil War. Presenters include Cherokee National Treasure Roger Cain, Cherokee Nation Language Technology Specialist Roy Boney, and David Fowler, site superintendent for the Fort Gibson Historic Site, Cabin Creek Battlefield and the George M. Murrell Home.
Alisa Douglas, student program coordinator at NSU’s Center for Tribal Studies, said she is excited about the events planned across the college campus this month to recognize American Indian Heritage.
“The event [the Center for Tribal Studies] is hosting is part of The Arts of Indigenous Culture Series in conjunction with the Okahoma Arts Center and NSU’s Indigenous Scholar Development Center,” said Douglas. “Our preparations for this start a full year in advance.”
The CTS will host Muscogee (Creek) citizen and author Joy Harjo on Thursday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m., in the University Center Ballroom. Harjo will give a presentation on her newest book, “Crazy Brave,” followed by a book signing.
“For me, I am honored that American Indians have been recognized,” said Douglas.
“I believe it gives an opportunity for other students on campus, faculty, staff and the community to engage and learn about indigenous culture. I am also proud our native organizations have taken the initiative to lead and plan these events.”
All Cherokee Nation and NSU events are free to the public.