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Cherokee Nation opens National Research Center to safely keep more than 11,000 historical artifacts

Thousands of documents and artifacts from the history of Cherokee Nation have a new home.

They’ve been relocated to the National Research Center, a facility at Cherokee Springs Plaza, about two miles away from the collection’s former home at the Cherokee Heritage Center. Tribal leaders officially opened the research center on Wednesday with a ribbon cutting.

The nearly 60-year-old heritage center’s condition led the Council of the Cherokee Nation to declare the tribe's collection of historical items dating back to the 1700s in a state of emergency last year. Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the research center has state-of-the-art climate controls and other features in its 5,000-square foot vault.

"The land patent from the 19th Century signed by President Van Buren, for example, is in here, and it’s now safe and secure with a great fire suppression system, tornado proof, something the Cherokee people can feel good about today because we’ve really protected something that’s really precious and irreplaceable," Hoskin said.

The 1838 land patent provided Cherokee Nation 14 million acres in Indian Territory, now northeastern Oklahoma.

The research center is also holding signature furniture owned by Cherokee Chief John Ross from the mid-1800s and a vast collection of contemporary and historic art from renowned Cherokee artists.

Vice President of Cultural Tourism Travis Owens said he hopes Cherokee Nation members take pride in knowing the collection is safe.

"I hope that also lets them know that these items are theirs, this collection is meant for the Cherokee people, and they can research and interact it to better learn the history of their ancestors and community members," Owens said.

The center has two research rooms and offers free genealogy services by appointment.

The historical collection's new home is intended to be temporary, but how long it will stay in the research center is not yet known. Cherokee Nation took ownership of the heritage center and its assets after the national council passed and Hoskin signed the Cherokee Heritage Center Act of 2020 last year. Officials intend to improve the heritage center.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.