Pictured from left: Travis Owens, Senior Vice President Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism; Shannon Buhl, Cherokee Nation Marshal; Melissa Payne, Cherokee Nation Freedmen Liason; S. Joe Crittenden, Cherokee Nation Secretary of Veteran Affairs; Cherokee Nation Deputy Principal Chief Bryan Warner; Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.; Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Shella Bowlin; Mayor of Ft. Smith, George McGill; Deputy Secretary of State Canaan Duncan; Molly Jarvis, SVP & Chief Operating Officer Cherokee Nation Businesses Cultural and Economic Development; Ben Johnson, President and CEO U.S. Marshals Museum.


FORT SMITH, Ark. – The U.S. Marshals Museum is partnering with Cherokee Nation to share more about the tribe’s history with Black slavery. This is the third destination for the touring exhibit.

“We Are Cherokee: Cherokee Freedmen and the Right to Citizenship,” features the stories, history, images and documents of Cherokee Freedmen, alongside original artworks by Cherokee Nation artists. It opens to the public on May 11.

It is presented as part of the Cherokee Freedmen Art and History Project initiative, established by Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., to broaden Cherokee Nation’s understanding of the Cherokee Freedmen experience and ensure that it is included in the greater narrative of Cherokee history.  

“Every nation gains strength from embracing its entire narrative – triumphs, tragedies and difficult chapters. Cherokee history is no different,” Chief Hoskin said. “To honor our history fully, we have confronted all aspects of our past, including acknowledging painful moments, like the enslavement of others by our ancestors. By recognizing and sharing these chapters, we make our tribal nation stronger for the future. This historic exhibition, which is traveling for the first time beyond Oklahoma, tells the remarkable resilience of Cherokee Freedmen amid generations of adversity. That spirit is a bond that unites us as Cherokees today.”

The Freedmen experience is shared from Cherokee people’s earliest known participation in slavery in the 18th century on through various historical milestones in the decades that followed, including the adoption of plantation-style slavery among Cherokees, Indian Removal to the West and the American Civil War. It also shares how the Treaty of 1866 granted freed slaves in Cherokee Nation the same rights as native Cherokees. 

The exhibit discusses the steps taken by the tribe to strip Freedmen and their descendants of tribal citizenship and examines the 2017 U.S. District Court ruling that upheld the Treaty of 1866 and reaffirmed Cherokee Freedmen as citizens of the Cherokee Nation.

“It is an honor to partner with Cherokee Nation to host this special exhibit at the U.S. Marshals Museum,” said Dr. Terisa Riley, chair of the board of directors for the U.S. Marshals Museum and chancellor at University of Arkansas Fort Smith. “This timely exhibit is a profoundly brave and illuminating display that should challenge all of us to reckon with the history of enslaved people and of our collective humanity.”

The exhibit first debuted in Tahlequah at the Cherokee National History Museum in 2022, with an impactful narrative that details the fight Cherokee Freedmen endured to take back their treaty-protected right to Cherokee Nation citizenship. It then went on to 101 E. Archer in downtown Tulsa in cooperation with the University of Tulsa’s Oklahoma Center for the Humanities.

“We Are Cherokee: Cherokee Freedmen and the Right to Citizenship” at the U.S. Marshals Museum is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Admission to the museum is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors 65 and older, and $8 for youth ages 6-17 and college students with photo ID. Children under 6 years old, current military, law enforcement and U.S. marshals receive free admission.

The U.S. Marshals Museum is located at 789 Riverfront Drive, Fort Smith, AR 72901.

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