A community reception will celebrate the local opening of “Understanding our Past, Shaping our Future” at the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center on Thursday, Nov. 14 from 3-5pm. The touring exhibit focuses on Cherokee language and culture, using sound recordings as the basis for presenting a coherent story in words and text.
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.
Re-recorded by language instructor Tom Belt, these conversations are archived in Hunter Library’s online collections at Western Carolina University. The exhibit panels use smart phone technology and QR codes that link to each conversation in the online archive. By hitting the on-screen play button, an exhibit visitor can listen to the Cherokee syllabary as it is spoken. The exhibit team favored a thematic approach rather than focusing strictly on history. Major themes include Cherokee Homeland, Heritage Sites, Tourism, Family, and Community Celebrations.
Members of the speakers’ group include: Myrtle Johnson, Edwin George, Eli George, Marie Junaluska, Sallie Smoker, Nannie Taylor, and J.C. Wachacha. Others who worked on the exhibit include: Roseanna Belt, WCU Cherokee Center; Tom Belt, WCU Cherokee Language Program; Evelyn Conley, Indigenous Education Institute; Jeff Marley, Nantahala School for the Arts; and Yona Wade, Cherokee Central Schools. Western Carolina University professors Andrew Denson, Jane Eastman, and Hartwell Francis participated, as did Asheville evaluator Corrine Glesne. Anna Fariello was project director.
The community-based 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.
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 remain on view through Dec. 20.
– Anna Fariello