The Cherokee Nation and the Gilcrease Museum are partnering on a project to preserve historic documents detailing some of the most important events in tribal history, including the forced removal on the Trail of Tears in 1838.
It's a big step toward protecting the culture and history of the Cherokee Nation.
The Gilcrease Museum houses one of the world's most impressive collections of western and Native American art and artifacts. The John Ross papers are part of the collection: more than a thousand pages of handwritten documents by the renowned Cherokee Chief.
"These documents are a treasure to the Cherokee Nation," said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker.
John Ross served as the Cherokee Chief for nearly 40 years, leading the tribe through forced removal and during the Civil War. Much of his personal correspondence was obtained by Thomas Gilcrease more than seven decades ago, but the collection has never been viewed publicly.
"This letter is dated July 27th, 1838," said Duane King, Gilcrease executive director.
The handwritten letters spanned nearly 50 years through the mid-1800s. Now, the Cherokee Nation is partnering with Gilcrease to preserve the papers. A donation will cover the expenses.
"They're irreplaceable, and it was a great opportunity for us to help protect, preserve these documents in a partnership with Gilcrease," Baker said.
"The ultimate goal is to digitize the entire archival and object collection," King said.
The partnership will help ensure the papers don't deteriorate.
"I think the standout thing for me is the level of sophistication that the Cherokee Nation took in their fights for their own rights," said Gilcrease Executive Director Duane King.
"The stories that are in these documents, are stories that we've been told, but now you can see it in writing," said Principal Chief John Baker, Cherokee Nation.
With the preservation, future generations of scholars and Cherokees will also be able to see the documents, and get a glimpse into the Cherokee Nation's past. Gilcrease also has an ongoing partnership with the Cherokee Nation to translate Cherokee documents to English for the first time.