Years after a tragic incident, one of Shawnee's museums is once again able to share its unique and historic treasures with the public.

Years after a tragic incident, one of Shawnee's museums is once again able to share its unique and historic treasures with the public.

The Citizen Potawatomi Nation (CPN) Cultural Heritage Center is celebrating the completion of renovations with a grand opening Saturday. The museum originally opened in January 2006, but this is the first time the center will be open to the public since flooding damage forced its closure in early spring of 2014.

Kelly Hughes, account executive of consumer and digital marketing for Jones PR, said nearly four years ago a City of Shawnee water main broke that was located under the CPN Cultural Heritage Center.

“The result was thousands of gallons of water flooding the building, causing structural damage to the building as well as irreparable damage to cultural artifacts that were invaluable to the Potawatomi people,” she said.

Hughes reported the flood was caused by an uncapped City of Shawnee water line, which had been turned on. “That line has now been disconnected,” she said.

Renovations of the 18,000-square-foot center began in 2016 and were funded by insurance and grants, Hughes said.

Tribal employees, Native American-owned businesses and Shawnee companies completed all renovations and created all of the designs and artwork found in the center, she said.

CPN Cultural Heritage Center Director Dr. Kelli Mosteller said CPN is reopening the museum for the heritage of its people.

“These renovations and upgrades will allow us to continue to educate our community about the Potawatomi Nation’s culture, heritage and history,” she said. “It will be the start of a new era for the center and our people.”

Digital displays and interactive exhibits throughout the museum include an astrology exhibit, a life-size replica of a handmade Potawatomi canoe and a traditional Potawatomi-style home.

“These exhibits tell more of a complete story,” Mosteller said. “We begin with some of our oral traditions, continue through early ways of life, discuss some conflict and the forced removals before we get to more recent history.”

One of the center’s key exhibits is the wall of moccasins, which features 86 pairs of moccasins that were handmade by tribal members.

“Each pair of moccasins represents 10 of the 859 Potawatomi who were forced out of their home in the Great Lakes to walk the Trail of Death,” Hughes said. “The exhibits were redesigned to be more immersive to tell deeper, more accurate stories of Potawatomi history.”

Additional exhibits and displays include both replicas and original documents of treaties and legal papers, a traditional Potawatomi wedding dress and many other artifacts.

The exhibits show some United States history and some Oklahoma history, as well, Mosteller said.

“We end with the Citizen Potawatomi Nation as it is today,” she said. “We’ve been intentional with our narrative and we’ve included digital interactives, as well.”

Mosteller said this is the first time the center has really used technology to help tell some of these stories.

CPN Vice-Chairman Linda Capps said CPN's tribal leaders are extremely proud of the special exhibits the center brings to its tribal community and to area residents.

She said she hopes visitors recognize that CPN deeply cares about its heritage and culture.

She said she especially wants those visitors to see that sovereignty is the key to the tribe's progressing as it has done throughout the years.

“May they comprehend that our magnificent Cultural Heritage Center is testimony to that fact,” she said. “Dr. Kelli Mosteller has done a tremendous job to overcome the misfortune that at our center experienced.”

The quality of the displays are an attraction to people state-wide, she said.

“The exclusive displays at the center highlights Potawatomi heritage, but it is also a tribute to other tribes as well,” she said.

Capps said the concept of forced relocation, loss of lands, and the economic necessity of moving — common to many tribes — is depicted in the displays at the museum.

“I believe the concept of victory is also illustrated,” she said. “I hope that visitors leaving the center will realize the heartbreaking disappointments that the Citizen Potawatomi and other tribes have experienced.”

Hughes said the free event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at 1899 S. Gordon Cooper Dr. in Shawnee will include guided tours. Goodie bags will be given out to the first 100 visitors.

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