By Jordan Cochran
The Funk Heritage Center’s Buffington Gallery is home to the stories of Cherokee natives that lived locally in North Georgia during the early nineteenth century.
Just over a year ago, the Funk Heritage Center cut the ribbon on its latest exhibit, “Resistance and Resilience: the Cherokee Trail of Tears.” Members of the Fourkiller family, Melanie Fourkiller and Paislee Raby, cut the ribbon on the exhibit in November 2019 at the Center’s 20th Anniversary. The Fourkillers were the Cherokee family living nearest to what is currently the Reinhardt University campus during the Cherokee Removal in 1838, and were friends of the Reinhardt family, the University’s namesake.
“This exhibit fills in an immense gap in the Native American story at the Funk Heritage Center. Previous exhibits focused primarily on the Woodland and Mississippian Native Americans who preceded the Cherokee. The new exhibit focuses squarely on the people and events leading up to the forced Removal of 1838,” said Director of the Funk Heritage Center, Jeff Bishop.
The exhibit includes a variety of interactivity, including several hands-on elements. A large, spinnable wheel details the seven Cherokee clans. Flip-ups on a large wall map reveal geographical information and flip-ups on the “Hickory Log Trading Post” show the cost of trade items in terms of deer skins. A play table holds Cherokee Syllabary wooden blocks and there is a scale model of the reconstruction of the original Cherokee Nation Court House. The interactive exhibit provides an educational resource for all ages to learn about the Cherokee experience.
Other features include:
- A large number of original artworks created by Native American artists who tell the Removal story from their perspectives
- Original artifacts like Cherokee-made basketry, pottery, spear points and material culture
- A role-playing activity in which seven historical figures from the Cherokee Nation of the nineteenth century immerse visitors in a story that uses primary source documents
- A slideshow that details the trauma of the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears
- Maps and brochures visitors can take home that provide more details of the Removal and that includes a Georgia map of all Removal routes and sites that can be visited on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
The exhibit’s creation came as a result of many contributors. The National Trail of Tears Association and Georgia Cherokee Nation citizens consulted the Center’s staff to put together a series of interpretive panels that tell a century-long narrative of Cherokee life in the Waleska area and surrounding Cherokee Nation. Reinhardt student interns contributed to the panels and helped hang them in the gallery.
“Twenty-four interpretive panels were developed, touching on everything from early Cherokee history, to the formation of the Cherokee Nation in Georgia. Topics also include traditional Cherokee lifeways, Sequoyah and the development of the Cherokee Syllabary, early Cherokee communities and families living in or near Waleska and Cherokee roads and commerce, along with the Cherokee struggle to remain in their Southeast homeland and the events leading up to the Trail of Tears.”
Over the course of nearly two years, the exhibit was created with hundreds of hours from staff members. With the exception of the clan wheel and wall map, all of the exhibit was produced by the Funk Heritage Center.
“In many ways, the new exhibit is the largest and most comprehensive ever undertaken at the Funk Heritage Center,” said Bishop.
Bishop describes the exhibit as a point of pride for the Center and all those involved in its creation. The exhibit will enable the Center to continue serving local schools and their curriculum, as well as preserve the stories of the Cherokee Nation in North Georgia.