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Shawnee center blends history, modern life

By The Associated Press Modified: February 25, 2008 at 7:10 am •  Published: February 25, 2008
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"They are the actual size, color and shape of the treaties as they are in the National Archives," Boursaw said. "We were fortunate that the archives let us scan the originals."

Other parts of the building are dedicated to the preservation and storage of artifacts. In the White Glove Examination Room, the name tells of the attire required to examine precious artifacts, including a "foot locker," or storage trunk, dating to the 1890s and thought to be the only one of its type left. On the side of the foot locker are the words "Carlisle Indian School," the Indian boarding school in Carlisle, Pa., that Jim Thorpe attended.

In the next-door secure storage area, the humidity is kept at 60-65 percent to preserve the thousands of artifacts lining tall shelves that move with the touch of a button. In one drawer is a woman's regalia from the early 1900s, an extremely fragile dress that still had long strands of black hair on it when it arrived.

However, artifacts must first go through the Cleaning and Processing Room, where staff members ensure they're free from fungus or insects. One area contains a CO2 "cocoon," the first of its kind in a U.S. museum, and the other a freezer that drops the temperature to 41 degrees below zero. Both processes, gassing or freezing, kill any unseen invaders that could damage items in storage, Stewart said. The director of this area is fondly called "the bug lady."

Much of the rest of the facility is devoted to the various ways people can tell the stories of their lives and research their ancestors. A video room allows people to watch family DVDs, including many of the stories of the 49 founding families. A library contains many books about tribal history, and the tribal rolls are housed in the facility as well. The Family Research Area has a more relaxed feel with sofas and chairs where people can watch more videos and look through archive boxes of family history and photographs. Nearby are three computers for genealogical research.

Another high-tech area is a television studio where the stories of veterans and elders are recorded. Stewart said they also call it the "healing room" because when difficult stories are shared, such as war service or a family's forced removal, there is healing in the telling.

"When people see the family videos, they want to be a part of it," Stewart said. "We honor families and want you to come in and tell your story. We want you to remember what it was like as a child and the stories your grandparents and great-grandparents told. But we also want to know what is going on in your life today."

A children's area soon will be built and will feature a full-sized wigwam and 12-foot birch bark and dugout canoes the youth can crawl through.

Artwork by tribal member Beverly Fentress lines the foyer and an inside wall, her vibrant colors and illustrations further telling the Potawatomi story with images ranging from a round house to a medicine wheel to the grand entry of a pow wow.

The Cultural Heritage Center has been popular with both tribal members and non-natives, Stewart said, and is a place for both in-depth research and preliminary learning. It is a place for all people to learn more about the tribe and its evolution.