How can you stay in the U.S. and yet be in another nation?
You can in Cherokee Nation, located outside Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the state's northeastern corner.
The Cherokee had been based chiefly in North Carolina until the early 1800s, when the federal government forced them to accept a portion of land in what’s now Oklahoma. Their story is a story of more than surviving: they are thriving.
Tahlequah is the capitol of Cherokee Nation. You’ll want to start your exploration of the nation at the Cherokee Heritage Center. Along with a museum, there are two distinct villages: One is a replica of an ancient Cherokee village, when the tribe resided out East. The second is Adams Village, a replica of a pre-statehood Cherokee community. Both villages have craftspeople on site demonstrating period Cherokee ways of life. Partake of a buffet with a Cherokee flair at the Restaurant of the Cherokees. Tahlequah is also home to the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum and the Cherokee National Prison Museum.
The Gilcrease Museum boasts one of the major collections of art and historical documents of the American West, much of which naturally directly concerns Native American tribes. Some of the most iconic paintings of Native Americans were collected by part Muscogee-Creek Thomas Gilcrease. Gilcrease did okay with his assigned land portion – it became part of the first major petroleum discovery in Oklahoma.
Not everyone knows that famed entertainer/journalist/philosopher Will Rogers was from a prominent Cherokee family. You can visit his birthplace and a memorial museum where he’s buried in the towns of Oologah and Claremore. Rogers’ birthplace – one of the only surviving pre-statehood buildings – remains a working ranch, with RV hookups, a barn available for parties and a grass airstrip. The memorial museum has an exact reproduction of his studio and a research library, plus lots of movie memorabilia.
The George M. Murrell home in Park Hill belonged to a man who married the niece of Cherokee chief John Ross. The historic property includes land that’s being tended by members of the tribe, growing heirloom veggies, fruits and herbs important to the area.
Casinos have been an important revenue source for many native tribes, and the Cherokee are no exception. They are part owners of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The hotel has several restaurants for every budget, A-list rock, country and comedy acts, and an award-winning golf course. The place is rockin’, for sure, but also retains a distinct Cherokee flavor.
At the Hard Rock, the Cherokee Gallery exhibits high-end art and handmade crafts. The Wild Potato Buffet – named after one of the Cherokee clans – serves items containing the all-important “Three Sisters”: corn, beans, squash. You’ll also find items with both Southern and Southwestern flavors.