Actual work commenced on the site of the future Heritage Center on February 23, 1966, under the supervision of Col. Hagerstrand who had agreed to terminate his private business interests and work full-time on the project as General Manager. The Cherokee Foundation, a private charitable foundation organized and largely maintained by Chief Keeler at Bartlesville, Oklahoma agreed to underwrite his salary and expenses during the construction period. Starting with a work crew of twelve full-blood Cherokees, the initial effort involved selective clearing of the jungle of vines, bushes and trees which covered the entire site, and filling the sink holes that had a century before been a small basement under the old seminary building, as well as excavating and salvaging foundation rock from the old seminary for later use. The force soon grew to four crews with up to 52 Cherokees employed. Village construction actually started in May, 1966 and continued for over a year. Hand labor, native materials and ancient methods were used in order to create the most authentic atmosphere possible.
A three-month “villager” training program, conducted in cooperation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Northeastern Oklahoma State College, was instituted in the late Spring of 1967 using Sequoyah High School facilities. Fifty to sixty Cherokees were trained for the village cast and as guides.
The village at Tsa-La-Gi was dedicated and opened to the public on June 27, 1967, by Society President Keeler before an audience of over 5,000 people. He was assisted by a number of state dignitaries including Oklahoma Governor Dewey Bartlett, Sen. A. S. “Mike” Monroney, Congressmen Ed Edmondson and Page Belcher, and others. State Senate Pro-Tem Clem McSpadden, of Cherokee descent, participated as Master of Ceremonies. The village cast and guides showed the results of the training in the practices and history of the 17th Century culture which they depicted.
Today a new generation of villagers and guides give visitors a glimpse of what life was like in a Cherokee village before European contact. Visitors are given guided tours of the village where they are educated on Cherokee history and practices. Demonstrations of flint knapping, basketry, pottery and bow making take visitors a step back in history.