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New Exhibit in Great Smoky Mountains National Park Tells Cherokee Stories
April, 2006

GSMNP - Cherokee Indians attach special spiritual meanings, rooted in their traditional culture, to the mountains and valleys of the Great Smoky Mountains.   Through a unique series of exhibits to be unveiled during a public ceremony, visitors will have an opportunity to learn about how these ancient mountains have affected Cherokee stories and beliefs for hundreds of years.  The event will be held on April 21, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., adjacent to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The event is also a celebration of the collaborative effort between the National Park Service, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, The Mountain Institute, the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.  Together they have created a physical and symbolic bridge between two cultures, linking the Mountain Farm Museum at Oconaluftee with the Cherokee Indian Reservation through seven interpretive exhibit panels that run along the Oconaluftee River Trail in the Park.  Illustrated with local Cherokee artwork, the exhibits retell traditional Cherokee stories in both the English and Cherokee languages. 

Eventually the project will tie into a proposed recreational greenway and heritage trail and continue along the Oconaluftee River in Cherokee, N.C.  Eastern Band Principal Chief Michell Hicks, said that “The more projects we have of this nature, the more confident we can be that our authentic Cherokee culture is appropriately represented and that our visitors enjoy the essence of the Cherokee way of life."

The ceremony will feature the Cherokee Warrior Dancers and exchange of gifts, a special ritual.  Eastern Band Principal Chief Michell Hicks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson, Director of the Sacred Mountains Program of the Mountain Institute Edwin Bernbaum, and Cherokee Storyteller Freeman Owle will be featured speakers.  Congressional representatives have also been invited to participate.

After the ceremony, visitors will have a chance to walk along the 1.5-mile Oconaluftee River Trail and view the porcelain enamel exhibits where members of the Cherokee Royalty Program and traditional Cherokee storytellers will be stationed to talk with them and to tell stories in the Cherokee and English languages.  At the end of the trail, participants will have a choice to either walk back or be transported on a bus back to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

Superintendent Ditmanson said that “This is indeed a special project for the Park, for our interpreters and educators, and our visitors.  It's the first of its kind in the Park that so eloquently portrays the Cherokee heritage.  These exhibits are very visible reminders of the spirit of cooperation that exists between the Park and the Eastern Band, and will serve the thousands of people who use this trail annually.  The Park is extremely grateful to the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Ford Foundation, The Mountain Institute, and Museum of the Cherokee Indian for supporting the exhibits along the trail.” 

Edwin Bernbaum of The Mountain Institute and author of the award winning Sacred Mountains of the World said that “This project provides an exciting, innovative model for inspiring similar collaborative projects in other national parks and protected areas in the US and around the world that reflect the cultural and spiritual connections of native peoples with their mountains and with nature.”   

The Mountain Institute, Washington, D.C., is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving mountain environments, improving mountain livelihoods, supporting mountain cultures, and promoting mountain education and awareness.

The Cherokee Preservation Foundation, Cherokee, N.C., helps members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and neighbors to preserve Cherokee culture, create economic development opportunities, and renew the environment where EBCI’s tribal lands are located.

The Ford Foundation is a nonprofit global organization that receives and administers funds for scientific, educational and charitable purposes for the public’s welfare.