TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Seven Cherokee Nation citizens conducted the inaugural meeting of the newly formed Cherokee National Historical Society on Thursday, March 11.
The creation of a new Cherokee National Historical Society is a component of the Cherokee Heritage Center Act of 2020, which was unanimously approved by the Council of the Cherokee Nation and signed into law by Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. on Sept. 24, 2020. As part of the act, the former historical society established in 1963 is dissolving and transferred all assets, including the iconic Cherokee Heritage Center and the site’s 44 acres, buildings, equipment, collections and historical documents to the Cherokee Nation.
The Act also received the unanimous endorsement of the original Cherokee National Historical Society, which will wind down operations and dissolve in the coming months. Since September, CNHS has been working with the administration and Cherokee Nation Businesses, which will manage the Heritage Center, on transition plans.
“The new Cherokee National Historical Society will play a significant role in helping the Cherokee Nation begin this exciting new chapter of stewardship,” Chief Hoskin said. “Each of these seven board members understand the legacy of the Cherokee Heritage Center. Moving forward, they will advise the Cherokee Nation on how best to invest in modern archival preservation and how to build a destination that reflects the resilience and spirit of the Cherokee people. Working together, the Cherokee National Historical Society and the Cherokee Nation will create a world-class Cherokee museum and research center, and I look forward to working alongside CNHS board members to accomplish these goals.”
Each branch of the Cherokee Nation government selected one of three initial CNHS organizing board members, all of whom are citizens of the Cherokee Nation:
• The Executive Branch selected Bill Davis, of Coffeyville, Kansas. Davis is a founding board member of Native American Fellowship Inc., a non-profit organization based in South Coffeyville, where he has served as a board member for more than 25 years. He currently serves as President of the NAFI board. Davis was also a delegate to the 1999 Cherokee Nation Constitutional Convention. He spent 42 years working for Union Pacific Railroad and was an officer in his local United Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. Davis is serving an initial seven-year term.
• The Judicial Branch selected Christine Neuhoff, senior vice president and chief legal officer for St. Luke’s Health System based in Boise, Idaho. Neuhoff has a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College where she majored in government, and a law degree from the University of California, Berkely, Boalt Hall School of Law, and a Master of Business Administration from MIT. She has served on a number of boards, including the American Indian Child Resource Center in Oakland, California, and the American Heart Association Western States Affiliate in Boise. Neuhoff is serving an initial five-year term, and was elected as President of the Cherokee National Historical Society.
• The Council of the Cherokee Nation selected Matt Anderson, of Tahlequah. Anderson is a cultural specialist with the Cherokee Nation and works with artists on business and marketing strategies. He is also a traditional Cherokee artist working in leather, wood, metal, beads and other mediums. Anderson is serving an initial six-year term, and was elected as Secretary of the Cherokee National Historical Society.
“I’m very excited and honored to be part of this next chapter for the Cherokee National Historical Society,” Neuhoff said. “This new structure allows the Cherokee Nation to ensure preservation of our history and will allow us to ensure people are able to better learn about Cherokee culture.”
Four other Cherokee Nation citizens also serving on the Cherokee National Historical Society include:
• Calvin Rock, of Muskogee, is a graduate of Porum High School and attended Northeastern State University. He spent his career with Georgia Pacific paper company, serving as a mill operations consultant during the final five years of his career with the company. He later consulted in the paper products industry until he retired in 2016. Rock will serve a four-year term.
• Jack Baker, of Oklahoma City, grew up in Adair County and graduated from Oklahoma State University. He served on the Council of the Cherokee Nation from 2003 to 2017 and was a delegate to the 1999 Cherokee Nation Constitutional Convention. He has contributed to numerous history books and publications on Cherokee history. Baker is president of the Oklahoma Historical Society board of directors and president of the National Trail of Tears Association. Baker will serve a three-year term and was elected as Treasurer of the Cherokee National Historical Society
• Susan Plumb is chairperson and CEO of the Bank of Cherokee County. She has a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and a law degree from the University of Tulsa. She has practiced law but primarily worked in the banking industry for the past 20 years. She has served as a board member of the Oklahoma City branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City since 2017. She has also served in a variety of capacities for the Cherokee Nation, including on the Election Commission and as a delegate to the 1999 Constitutional Convention. Plumb also served as a board member of the original CNHS. Plumb will serve a two-year term.
• Brenda Partain, of Tulsa, grew up in Stilwell and attended Oklahoma State University as an accounting major. She married and raised three children in Stilwell while serving as a volunteer in her community and church. She organized the Stilwell Community Anti-Drug Network, and later the Adair County Environmental Healthy Initiative to help fight drug addiction in the community. She currently serves on several boards including Oaks Indian Mission. She also served as a board member of the original CNHS prior to its reorganization, and previously served as the Interim Executive Director of the Cherokee Heritage Center. Partain will serve a one-year term.
Following the initial staggered terms of the reorganized CNHS board, board seats will each be filled for five-year terms.
The Cherokee Heritage Center was established in 1963 by the former Cherokee National Historical Society to preserve and promote the Cherokee culture. It is also home to the Cherokee National Archives, the Nation’s foremost collection of historic, tribal-related documents and cultural treasures from the 1700s through present day.
As part of the transition, the Cherokee National Research Center is scheduled to open later this summer at the Cherokee Springs Plaza in Tahlequah. The facility will be the temporary home of the records held by the Heritage Center as well as genealogical services. The new Cherokee National Historical Society will help develop a strategic plan for the future of those holdings at the Cherokee Heritage Center.