Rather than translating from English into Cherokee, as is often done, much of the exhibit text was excerpted from conversations originally recorded in Cherokee. A Cherokee speakers group, organized in cooperation with the Cherokee Language Program at Western Carolina University, met weekly at the Kituwah Academy, the language emersion school. There, members were shown historic photographs and asked to comment on them. Their conversations were transcribed, translated, and included on the fifteen panels that make up the exhibit.
Rerecorded by language instructor Tom Belt, these conversations are archived in Hunter Library’s online digital collections at Western Carolina University. The exhibit panels use smart phone technology and QR codes to link to conversations in the archive. By hitting the onscreen play button, an exhibit visitor can listen to the Cherokee syllabary as it is spoken.
Slated to travel to ten sites in the region, the exhibit places cultural interpretation in locations frequented by the public. “Understanding our Past, Shaping our Future” will later be on view at the Swain County Center for the Arts in Bryson City, Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville, Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Cashiers Symposium and Historical Society in Cashiers.
The touring exhibit is sponsored by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in partnership with Cherokee Central Schools, Southwestern Community College, and Western Carolina University. Funding was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.