About 350 individuals participated in the Creole Heritage Center’s 20th anniversary celebration at Northwestern State University, a three-day event titled “Struggles & Persistence – But Still We Rise.” The celebration included the Creole People’s Awards and Banquet with Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré keynote speaker and appearances by Miss Louisiana Holli´ Conway and Melissa Anderson, USA Ambassador .
“We chose the theme ‘Struggles and Persistence: But Still We Rise,’ which defines the landmark of our accomplishments,” said Loletta Wynder, director of the CHC. “It is evident that no one person can be credited with the center’s success. It has been a group effort: the academic advisor, administrative staff, student workers, volunteers, board members and community supporters. Despite everything, the Creole Heritage Center is alive and well.”
The mission of the Creole Heritage Center is to document, present, promote, foster and engage in activities and endeavors that relate to Creole culture. The Center serves as an office of support to Creole communities and organizations, offering advice and assistance in matters that affect Creoles. The Center also serves as a central clearinghouse/information bank for these communities and for those seeking knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Creoles and their culture. Creole People’s Award recipients were Darrell Bourque, Patricia Cravins, Dustin Fuqua, Vera Severin and Honoré. Dr. Pete Gregory received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Gregory Reed and Curtis P. Deselles Jr. earned special recognition. As part of the celebration, the Center raffled a custom-made walnut guitar made by Deselles that raised more than $1,000.
Scott Brame of Alexandria was the winner. The 20th anniversary celebration was dedicated to Terrel A. Delphin Jr. and Janet Colson. Delphin is credited with initiating the “Creole Renaissance” to make the public aware of Creole culture and traditions and advocated for the Center’s affiliation with Northwestern State University. Colson was a long-time director of the Creole Heritage Center and instrumental in developing the Creole Heritage Center from a local community to a global creolité.
The conference began Thursday, Sept. 13 with a meet and greet, registration, entertainment and bingo. Friday’s events included an opening describing how the Center was started, followed by break-out sessions on Creole organizations, music and projects. The awards ceremony and banquet took place that evening. Saturday’s schedule included panels on the Creole language, Creole books and films, a cooking demonstration and mass at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church. The evening closed with a zydeco blues dance. The Creole Heritage Center was part of a five-year plan initiated by the St. Augustine Historical Society, a group in the Natchitoches and Cane River areas, that was formed to promote and preserve the Carole Culture.
In 1994, the National Park Service purchased Oakland Plantation and the outbuildings of Magnolia Plantation to establish the Cane River Creole National Historical Park. Delphin was president of the SAHS and roused local citizens with an upsurge of pride and Creole culture and heritage. Gregory and Joseph Moran, community resident, put together a report entitled “We Know Who We Are,” an ethnographic background study. The NPS began to formulate its interpretation plan. The Center became a reality mainly through the efforts of Delphin, NSU personnel and SAHS members. The approval of the university’s governing boards was obtained in 1997. Grant monies received from the Governor’s Office on Urban Affairs and Development allowed for support of a start-up staff whose initial mission was to assist in the achievement of permanent funding for the Center.
Initially an advisory council was formed and members were appointed in accordance to the established by-laws. Due to the increased national outreach, additional members were added to represent regions across America. Within the first five years, many endeavors were first-time achievements by a “unit that has no model.” The Center presented the first Creole Heritage Conference, the first Creole Family History Conventions (Louisiana and California), and the first Creole Studies Conference.
The Center initiated the first national Creole family history database. Another first was the recording of individual Creole communities and related themes through the Creole Chronicles project. Several entities provide funding over the years, including Cane River National Heritage Area, Cane River Creole National Historical Park, NSU, Louisiana Regional Folklife Program, Rapides Foundation and the Governor’s Office of Urban Affairs. A major component of the Creole Heritage Center has been making resources information available. The Resource Library of the Creole Heritage Center has amassed a large collection of materials relating to Creole culture and its links nationwide. The information includes research papers, submitted family histories, photographs, reference books, copies of historical documents and record listings, oral histories and memorabilia.
The information contained within the library represents the only national clearinghouse of Creole-related data. The information also serves as a major connector for many families and/or organizations and researchers. The Center is one-of-a-kind and the first unit to have as its main mission to document and present Creole culture. Although the initial focus was the community of Cane River, it has broadened its range to include the entire state of Louisiana, as well as Creole colonies around the world.