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Cherokee museum granted land use permit for future collections facility

Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed (R) signs a land use permit recently allowing the Museum of the Cherokee Indian to operate an offsite facility housing Museum collections, archives, and Tribal artifacts on land in Swain County. Shown, left to right, back row — Lambert Wilson, Marie Junaluska, Anita Lossiah, Perry Shell, Shana Condill, Cory Blankenship, Myra Cloer, Dawna Paul, Louise Reed; seated Samantha Ferguson and Chief Sneed.                              Photo from The Museum of the Cherokee Indian Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed (R) signs a land use permit recently allowing the Museum of the Cherokee Indian to operate an offsite facility housing Museum collections, archives, and Tribal artifacts on land in Swain County. Shown, left to right, back row — Lambert Wilson, Marie Junaluska, Anita Lossiah, Perry Shell, Shana Condill, Cory Blankenship, Myra Cloer, Dawna Paul, Louise Reed; seated Samantha Ferguson and Chief Sneed. Photo from The Museum of the Cherokee Indian

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) has issued a land use permit allowing the Museum of the Cherokee Indian  to operate an offsite facility housing Museum collections, archives, and Tribal artifacts. The permit follows a February resolution that designated a piece of land in Swain County, near Bryson City, for the future building.

“The MCI Board of Directors is pleased to have completed this next step in the process of constructing an off-site Museum collections and archives facility,” Museum of the Cherokee Indian Board President Samantha Ferguson said. “We are grateful to Chief Sneed, Vice Chief Ensley, and Tribal Council for their continued support in the development of a state-of-the-art home for the Museum’s object and paper archives.”

The location — just over seven miles from Cherokee’s Cultural District and the Museum — bears great cultural significance due to its close proximity to Kituwah, Mother Town of the Cherokee. 

“Archaeological evidence exists at Kituwah going back at least 15,000 years, but we as Cherokees know we are of this place,” said Shana Bushyhead Condill, Executive Director of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. “The Museum is honored to continue to protect and steward these cultural objects, work closely with EBCI Tribal Historic Preservation and Natural Resources, and develop a facility that connects Cherokee people to our history and culture through both our collections and location.”

The Museum’s current building at 589 Tsali Boulevard, built in 1978, presently houses its permanent exhibition, temporary exhibition space, Museum store, collections storage, administrative offices, and education facilities. For Museum leadership, the earmarked land near Kituwah is an optimal location for its collections, which include artifacts, documents, books, journals, photographs, maps, and audiovisual materials pertaining to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Nation, and United Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians. 

In addition to creating needed space for the Museum’s current holdings, a designated facility allows the Museum to grow its collections — with particular attention to works by living Cherokee artists and craftspeople — and efficiently implement a collections care policy that prioritizes Cherokee cultural protocols and American Alliance of Museums’ core standards and ethics. The site also fulfills a critical need for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians: making secure, designated space available for Tribal artifacts repatriated through the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act ( NAGPRA ). The Museum and EBCI Tribal Historic Preservation Office intend to work closely together to return known objects to Cherokee ancestral homelands. 

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“It’s our responsibility as a Tribe to bring our artifacts back home, so we’ve made it a priority,” EBCI Principal Chief Richard Sneed remarked. “I’m very grateful to Shana for her leadership on this and the Board for their enthusiasm.”

The Museum will share announcements on the project’s progress via its website, mci.org

“This is an exciting time at MCI,” said Director of Operations Michael Slee. “Construction planning is in the initial phases for the new collections and archives facility, and timelines will become clearer as we get further along in the process. We have established a talented Construction Committee including MCI Board of Directors representative Perry Shell, Ray Rose, T.W. Saunooke, and Katie Tiger. The knowledge and skillset that these volunteers bring to the table is going to be invaluable as we move forward on this project.”

Established in 1948, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian is one of the longest-operating tribal museums in the United States. Recognized for its innovative storytelling, the Museum features exhibits, artwork, and hands-on technology that brings 12,000 years of Cherokee history to life. Located in Cherokee, NC, the Museum is open daily except Nov. 23, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. Learn more by visiting mci.org

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