Craig Day, News On 6
TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma -- The Cherokee Nation broke ground Thursday morning on the tribe's latest effort to preserve part of its past.
The John Ross school house, built in 1913, is being refurbished.
"There's graffiti, it's boarded up, but that's not how I see it," said Cherokee Nation Chief Chad Smith.
The school house will be turned into a museum and interpretive center. John Ross was chief of the Cherokees for 38 years and led the tribe during forced relocation on the Trail of Tears.
"This schoolhouse gives us the opportunity to tell his stories and what happened to the Cherokee Nation during that period of time," he said.
Restoration of the old school house is just the latest effort by the Cherokee Nation to preserve many of its old buildings and will be an important part of its ongoing cultural tourism program.
The Cherokees improved the nearby historic John Ross cemetery. The Cherokee National Supreme Court building is now a restored museum. Work is also underway at the tribe's historic national prison. The school building is their latest effort.
"It was important to preserve the building rather than destroy it and build a new structure, which probably would have been easier," said Molly Jarvis, Cherokee Cultural Tourism. "But it doesn't speak to our mission of preservation."
Students haven't attended here since the 50's, but tribal leaders look forward to the day soon that visitors will once again walk up the steps and through the doors. To learn, to understand and to appreciate another important part of Oklahoma's early days.
"An opportunity to tell phenomenal stories," Smith said.
The new John Ross Museum will be finished in the summer of 2011.