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Exhibit of Cherokee photographs opens at Smithsonian

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. ? Through April, the Smithsonian Institution will tell the story of the Cherokee people in photographs by David Fitzgerald of Oklahoma City. In all, there are 55 pictures in the 'Cherokee Nation: A Portrait of a People' exhibit.

Originally the photographs were part of a traveling exhibition organized by the Oklahoma Historical Society's State Museum of History. Following the premiere in Washington, D.C., it will be displayed by the Oklahoma Historical Society from May through December of 2002 and then will begin a national tour through 2006.

Fitzgerald began photographing members of the Cherokee Nation three years ago while researching the Trail of Tears. Although he is not a member of the Cherokee Nation, he has been able to see past stereotypes and photographed the Cherokee as a dynamic presence in today's world, tribal sources said. His portraits led to the project with the state museum.

Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith said he was delighted by the diversity of the photographs. 'The valuable thing about this national exposure is to break down the stereotypes attached to American Indians. Cherokees are doctors and judges and politicians and teachers and artists. We don't fit into one mold.'

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Fitzgerald's inspiration for part of the exhibition came from an article in Time magazine featuring photographs of the six living presidents. He decided a photograph of the four living principal chiefs of the Cherokee Nation was in order and soon had his first photographic collection of Wilma Mankiller and Charlie Soap, Joe Byrd and Suzy Byrd, Chad Smith and Bobbie Gail Smith and Ross Swimmer.

The rest of the collection features Cherokee tribal members from all walks of life and shows the enduring strength and resilience to change in the faces of those photographed by Fitzgerald. From stomp dancers to fire dancers and a congressman to a Cherokee Supreme Court justice, the extreme diversity of the Cherokee people comes to life.