Understanding Our Past, Shaping Our Future

Understanding Our Past

A traveling exhibit that uses smart-phone technology to focus on the Cherokee language and its role within Cherokee culture will open Wednesday, June 13, at the Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort.

Titled Understanding Our Past, Shaping Our Future, the exhibition uses sound recordings as the basis for presenting a coherent story in both words and text about the traditional language of the Cherokee people. It will be on view through Sunday, November 4, at the museum, located at 24 Water Street in Old Fort. Admission is free.

The exhibition was developed with the assumption that language shapes thinking. In creating the exhibit storyline, the project team placed the focus on the Cherokee language, believed to reflect inherent community values.

Understanding Our Past, Shaping Our Future was conceived of and designed to include community input as a way to develop its content.  A community-team approach consisted of monthly discussions that focused on the themes and images that would make up the content. 

The initial idea, to create a chronological history, was modified to sharpen the Cherokee perspective.  Rather than present historical outcomes, the team favored a thematic approach.  Major themes include Cherokee Homeland, Heritage Sites, Tourism, Family, and Community Celebrations.  The result is an exhibit that tells a more personal story and provides insight into Cherokee identity. 

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 on the Qualla Boundary. 

There, members were shown historic photographs and asked to comment on them.  Their conversations were transcribed, translated, and included on the 15 panels that make up the exhibit. 

Re-recorded by language instructor Tom Belt, these conversations are digitally archived.  The exhibit panels use smart phone technology and QR codes to link to conversations in the archive.  By hitting the on-screen play button, a visitor can listen to the Cherokee syllabary as it is spoken. 

The touring exhibit was funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to the Eastern Band of Cherokee in partnership with the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center at Cherokee Central Schools. It was made available by Curatorial inSight,

For more information about the exhibit, please contact RoAnn Bishop at Mountain Gateway Museum at 828-668-9259 or roann.bishop@ncdcr.gov, or e-mail Anna Fariello at Curatorial inSight, a museum planning and exhibition development firm, at curatorialinsight@gmail.com