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Exhibit aimed a piquing interest in Cherokee history

fr cherokeeA new traveling exhibit is using technology to teach people about traditional Cherokee culture.


“Understanding our Past, Shaping our Future” is a series of panels, each detailing a different topic relating to the Cherokee people, be it European influences, tribal games or the future of the Eastern Band.

“We want to honor that culture and understand it,” said Anna Fariello, a research associate professor with Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library who worked on the exhibit.

People can not only read the panels of information, they can also take advantage of the QR code technology incorporated into the exhibit. 

QR codes, similar to bar codes on store-bought goods, can be scanned. People must simply have a smart phone and download a QR code scanner application. The codes, when scanned, take the user to a website link where they can listen to someone tell stories about the Cherokee and even speak the native language, making it a more dimensional exhibit.

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“We started out with more of a historic approach,” Fariello said. Then “we realized that maybe we can play with the language a bit.”

As for what to tackle in the Cherokee’s vast history, the group considered broad but important topics — such as family values and identity — and from there decided what specifically to include.

“We tried to cover all our bases,” Fariello said.

The exhibit is not meant to tell the entire story of the Eastern Band. Many more panels would be needed for that. It is simply meant to pique people’s interest so they are inspired to learn more.

Corrine Glesne, who was hired to evaluate the exhibit, said the process was a learning experience for her. 

“I knew a lot about the arts and crafts, but I don’t think I fully understand the three bands,” Glesne said. “I had heard the word Qualla, but I really didn’t know what it was.”

While the exhibit is geared mostly toward people who aren’t Cherokee, Glesne wants both Cherokee and non-Cherokee to take something away from it.

“I hope for appreciation — appreciation for the richness, the wisdom, the heritage,” she said. “For the Cherokee, I wish pride.”

WCU’s Cherokee Language Program Coordinator Tom Belt said he also wants the exhibit to create more appreciation for different cultures.

“We hope that this will create a venue of better understanding cross culturally,” Belt said.

Being an enrolled member of the Eastern Band and Cherokee language teacher, Belt knew many of the stories and history of his own people, but the project did not leave him untouched. A particular moment that stood out amid their information gathering process was a discussion among native Cherokee speakers about a simple picture of the Great Smoky Mountains.

“The way these speakers talked about the mountains had not changed in 1,000 years,” Belt said. “They saw in that picture a great abundance — of food, of medicine. They saw in there a gift that has to be taken care of.”

“Understanding our Past, Shaping our Future” is the culmination of a two-year partnership between Cherokee Central Schools, Southwestern Community College, and WCU’s Cherokee Center and Cherokee Language Program.  The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is sponsoring the exhibit.



See the exhibit

“Understanding our Past, Shaping our Future” is on display in the lobby of Southwestern Community College’s Balsam Building in Sylva until Sept. 17. It will then move to the Health and Human Sciences building at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee on Sept. 19 and remain there until October.

After spending October at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville, the exhibit will make a final stop at the Cherokee Central Schools Cultural Arts Center on the Qualla Boundary for the month of November.

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