NORTH CAROLINA – Artifacts and collections from Cherokee Tribes who once lived on lands now managed by national forests in North Carolina and Tennessee and the Western Carolina University campus have an updated home. With $175,000 of partnership funding from the USDA Forest Service, the space has been upgraded to Federal curation standards and incorporates technological advances to help people browse the collection more easily.
More than 100 supporters visited the facility earlier this month for a dedication ceremony that drew students, trustees, researchers, Cherokee Tribal members, professors, the Chancellor, Forest Service employees and local Trail of Tears Association officials. Many attendees were humbled to learn that a Cherokee town stood in that very location for thousands of years. Relatively speaking, the university campus and nearby national forests are latecomers on the scene.
Chris Sporl, the Southern Region director of Recreation, Wilderness, Heritage and Partnership/Volunteer Resources, said, “The dedication ceremony of this facility was significant to the Forest Service because, as stewards of the land, we have a responsibility not only to preserve physical resources, but also the cultural legacies that these resources can tell for future generations. These artifacts aren’t just pieces of pottery or stone tools, they are the stories of past generations.”
The facility was named Two Sparrows, or Tali Tsisgwayahi in the Cherokee language. This is the name of the Cherokee town that WCU is built over. Research indicates it could be the oldest Cherokee town of record, now a college campus.
Melissa Twaroski, the Southern Region’s Coordinator for the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail on NFS Lands, spoke at the event. “I spoke from my heart about our interactions with the three federally recognized Cherokee Tribes, our partnership with the university and the importance of preserving these artifacts and archival collections,” she said.
According to Twaroski, renovating here was more economical than renting curation space elsewhere. It also creates room for expansion and gives Tribal members access to artifacts and records so they can see and relate to their heritage.
“The Forest Service is committed to preserving cultural materials. They are important to living people and to our collective history,” Twaroski said.
About two-thirds of the collection housed at WCU came from archaeological surveys and excavations on national forest lands. Pottery fragments and stone tools dating back thousands of years as well as artifacts from the time of Indian Removal are among the newly cataloged items.
Also speaking at the event: a former Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the recently retired WCU Cherokee Language Program Coordinator, the university’s Sequoyah Distinguished Professor and the university’s new chancellor.