By NANCY FOLTZ
CHEROKEE PRESERVATION FOUNDATION
Former North Carolina Governor James Hunt visited Cherokee on Wednesday, July 13, at the invitation of Cherokee Preservation Foundation. The governor, who helped negotiate the agreements between the EBCI and the State of North Carolina that paved the way for the casino and the establishment of Cherokee Preservation Foundation, came to see how the Foundation has invested in cultural preservation, economic development and environmental preservation over the past decade. He was accompanied by Mrs. Hunt and their daughter Rachel.
Governor Hunt first met with Tribal leaders at the Tribal Council House. Then he boarded a Cherokee Transit bus for a tour of the downtown, where he was briefed about the development of the Riverbend shopping area, which was financed with help from the EBCI, Cherokee Preservation Foundation and the Sequoyah Fund, and he learned about the Foundation’s $8 million investment to enhance the promotion of tourism.
Then he visited the cultural district, first stopping at Qualla Arts and Crafts, where Executive Director Vicki Cruz and Education and Outreach Coordinator Tonya Carroll talked about the upgrades that Foundation resources have made possible. At the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Executive Director Ken Blankenship showed Governor Hunt the new education wing of the museum and the Governor learned about how the Museum has built its fundraising capability. At the Mountainside Theatre, John Tissue, the executive director of Cherokee Historical Association, pointed out upgrades funded by the Foundation. These include new seats, lighting, bathrooms, concessions, and a new sound system and rain shelter, as well as training for acting and playwriting that have enabled significantly more local talent to participate and take leadership roles in the Drama. A final tour stop at Oconaluftee Village highlighted how Foundation resources have been used to upgrade the village and enhance its authenticity.
Back at the Foundation’s office, the Governor met with Kevin Jackson and Kelsey Standingdeer, two of the young leaders who are participating in new leadership development programs created by the community and the Foundation, and they told him how they are using their new leadership skills.
The visit was capped off by a dinner with the Governor and his family, founding and current members of the Foundation’s Board of Directors and the Foundation’s staff. In remarks at the dinner, Cherokee Preservation Foundation Executive Director Susan Jenkins thanked Governor Hunt and other tribal leaders, especially both former and current Board members, for the hard work that went into creating and guiding the Foundation.
“As you can tell, we have provided a lot of resources to worthy programs, as well as helped build the capacity of our grantees and offered opportunities to our local young people to be part of a dynamic organization,” Jenkins said. “And the work we have done that makes us most proud is what we do on behalf of youth. Helping local and regional youth is the basis for our funding to provide broadband to 60 schools in the seven-county region, to support Youth Councils and the eco-study tour of Costa Rica, to help diversify the economy by encouraging entrepreneurship for youth in the schools and adults, to preserve the Cherokee language, and to encourage the Qualla Boundary and the region to be green.”
Governor Hunt told the dinner guests: “When I last visited Cherokee ten or so years ago, the cultural organizations like Qualla Arts and Crafts, the Museum, the Drama and Village had wonderful products and programs, but the facilities were dated and not up to par with other venues around the state and region. Ten years later, I see a very different picture. With the support of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation and the Tribe, I see world class facilities being used to deliver even higher quality programming and people who are pleased to see visitors and very accommodating.
“I am extraordinarily pleased to see the Foundation’s focus on leadership development,” Governor Hunt said. “I like the idea of having programs for youth, college students and adults. Leadership development is essential for continued progress on the Qualla Boundary and in the region. I have always thought that the crowning achievement in the Compact between the Tribe and the State was the idea for Cherokee Preservation Foundation to be established, and now I know that to be the case”