http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgCherokee language instructor Rufus King speaks to his class at the Lost City Community Building in this 2017 photo. King, along with several other Cherokee instructors, began their 10-week classes at the end of February and beginning of March. STACIE BOSTON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee language instructor Rufus King speaks to his class at the Lost City Community Building in this 2017 photo. King, along with several other Cherokee instructors, began their 10-week classes at the end of February and beginning of March. STACIE BOSTON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Cherokee Language Classes: Get to know your instructor

Cherokee language instructor Helena McCoy shows her students how to write “fry bread” in the Cherokee syllabary and phonetically while teaching at the Brushy Community Building. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee language instructor Helena McCoy shows her students how to write “fry bread” in the Cherokee syllabary and phonetically while teaching at the Brushy Community Building. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Reporter – @cp_bbennett &
STACIE BOSTON
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
03/07/2018 08:00 AM
TAHELQUAH – Community classes have started for those interested in learning how to read, write and speak the Cherokee language.

The free classes take place every spring and fall for 10 weeks and are part of the Cherokee Nation’s Cherokee Language Program. Its goal is to perpetuate the language “in all walks of life ranging from day to day conversation, ceremonially, as well as in online arenas such as social media.”
Students learn from both first- and second-language speakers in communities within the tribe’s jurisdiction.

The Cherokee Phoenix recently spoke with several instructors to highlight their Cherokee backgrounds and discuss what students can expect in their classes.

Are you a native Cherokee speaker? If not, when did you start learning the language?

Rufus King:I was born and raised in a Cherokee language-speaking home. That was all I could speak when I was a kid. When they sent me to school, that’s all I knew was Cherokee, didn’t know a word of English.

Helena McCoy: Cherokee is my first language. That’s why it’s so important for me that everybody else hears it.

Lawrence Panther: Yes, Cherokee is my first language. I began to learn English when I started school at 6 years old.

Sandra Turner: Yes, Cherokee was my first language.

Lois Deason: Cherokee was my first language.

When did you become a certified language instructor and why?

King: I was certified to teach Cherokee language in 2001, I think it was. So that makes me about 16 years that I’ve been doing this all together. Different places around Jay mostly and Grove, but since we moved down here (Lost City) we picked it up over here now. I kind of feel home when I get here, and I think everybody else feels that way.

McCoy: I went to the Cherokee Immersion (Charter School) and taught there for six and a half years. And then these classes came up, (CN Language Program Manager) Roy (Boney) I think it was, asked if I wanted to teach these adult classes and I said, ‘I’ll try it.’ It’s fun. We really have fun.

Panther: I taught myself to read and write. Afterwards, I took the Cherokee language test and became a certified Cherokee language teacher in 2012.

Turner: I became an instructor about 12 years ago and why – I told myself if I speak the language I should know how to read and write the language. So I took a class at the old jailhouse (in Tahlequah) with Anna Sixkiller as my instructor.

Deason:I got my certification December 2016.

Why are these classes important to teach in our Cherokee communities?

King: Preserving our language is one thing because we are losing it, some of them say. There’s not that many speakers anymore here in Cherokee Nation. Last year they gave us an estimate. I thought about that myself trying to start from the north end and try to find out about how many fluent speakers that I could find. That would give me how many fluent speakers, the ones that you can talk to all day long. I think that’s why we need to preserve it.

McCoy: Well like everybody says, it’s dying and it really is. I like teaching it. I think it’s important for people to hear it and understand it from a fluent speaker to teach them the correct sounds.

Panther: Not only is our language (speaking) in dire need of revitalization, the written language needs to be addressed just as well.

Turner: It is important to provide this service to the community members that want to learn the Cherokee language even if they learn very basic words using the (Cherokee) syllabary.

Deason: Most of them will tell you that they have no one to teach them. So that’s why I decided to teach the Cherokee language.

For those interested in taking your class, what can they expect to learn?

King: I teach them the sounds of the syllabary, that is the most important too. To make them sound like they are supposed to be because if you don’t sound them out like the way they supposed to be, you’re words are not going to come out right, and nobody’s going to know what you’re saying.

McCoy: I try to teach what they want to learn, that way they’ll be more interested in coming back. Just whatever they want to do, like breakfast foods or names for family. Come out one day and sit in. We won’t make you participate, but the only way you’re going to learn is by saying it (in Cherokee), so I just tell them to come on out.

Panther: I will advocate the syllabary writing for my Cherokee classes. The syllabary chart discourages many learners and speakers. I will have hands-on activities including kinesthetic and tactile, auditory, visual and lecture analytically about the syllabary chart. This will help them utilize the knowledge of the syllabary. There are a lot of speakers who do not know how to read and write. I feel the need to reach out to them, including learners as well. It’s very important the teacher is adamant when it comes to teaching.

Turner: So many people have seen the Cherokee syllabary but have never learned how to read the syllables. I use the format of teaching “What, Where, When, Why, Who and How.” The first night of class when I review the vowel sounds participants are amazed of making a full sentence using “??.” They cannot believe these two syllables make up the sentence, “a-i” which means “he or she is walking.” I also ask the participants if there are certain words they would really like to learn, and I also use their Cherokee names if they have one, and if not I will give them one to use in class or I will ask them to ask an elder if they do have a Cherokee name.

Deason: They will learn about the syllabary chart to learn how to pronounce them. So they can learn how to pronounce Cherokee words a lot better. They would learn how to count in Cherokee, days of the week things like that, just basic things to start off with.

For more information, call 918-453-5487.

Click hereto read the Cherokee language class schedule.
About the Author
Brittney Bennett is from Colcord, Oklahoma, and a citizen of the United Keetoowah Band.  She is a 2011 Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient and graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and summa cum laude honors.
 
While in college, Brittney became involved with the Native American Journalists Association and was an inaugural NAJA student fellow in 2014. Continued mentorship from NAJA members and the willingness to give Natives a voice led her to accept a multimedia internship with the Cherokee Phoenix after college.  
 
She left the Cherokee Phoenix in early 2016 before being selected as a Knight-CUNYJ Fellow in New York City later that same year. During the fellowship, she received training from industry professionals with The New York Times and instructors at the City University of New York. As part of the program, she completed a social media internship with USA Today’s editorial department.
 
Now that Brittney has made her way back to the Cherokee Phoenix, she hopes to use the experience gained from her travels to benefit Indian Country and the Cherokee people.
brittney-bennett@cherokee.org • 918-453-5560
Brittney Bennett is from Colcord, Oklahoma, and a citizen of the United Keetoowah Band. She is a 2011 Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient and graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and summa cum laude honors. While in college, Brittney became involved with the Native American Journalists Association and was an inaugural NAJA student fellow in 2014. Continued mentorship from NAJA members and the willingness to give Natives a voice led her to accept a multimedia internship with the Cherokee Phoenix after college. She left the Cherokee Phoenix in early 2016 before being selected as a Knight-CUNYJ Fellow in New York City later that same year. During the fellowship, she received training from industry professionals with The New York Times and instructors at the City University of New York. As part of the program, she completed a social media internship with USA Today’s editorial department. Now that Brittney has made her way back to the Cherokee Phoenix, she hopes to use the experience gained from her travels to benefit Indian Country and the Cherokee people.

Education

BY LINDSEY BARK
Reporter
06/20/2018 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation citizen Crystal Young on May 4 was named the Tahlequah Public School District Teacher of the Year for the 2017-18 school year. She is a third grade teacher at Cherokee Elementary. Young was first awarded Cherokee Elementary Teacher of the Year in April, which put her in the running for the district award. “It’s just super humbling, I think, when you get something like that, that you know your peers chose you,” she said. In the fall, Young will begin her seventh year at Cherokee Elementary and plans to teach fifth grade. Before joining Cherokee Elementary, she taught two years at the tribe’s Head Start. However, teaching wasn’t her first desire. She said she initially wanted to become a lawyer and work in juvenile justice. “Growing up, we lived in poverty. My dad struggled with addiction and things like that. So some of these students that I see, I was right there. I know exactly what they’re going through, and I wanted to show kids that hard work will get you where you need to be, and perseverance and work ethic and all those attributes, honesty, integrity, those things matter,” she said. While attending college, she realized she worked well with children and changed her career path from lawyer to educator. Aside from teaching, Young is the Cherokee language bowl sponsor and Together Raising Awareness for Indian Life sponsor for Cherokee Elementary. She said she exposes her students to Cherokee culture and to diabetes awareness through the TRAIL’s 12-week curriculum. “When they’re an adult, this is going to help them. I’m hoping that we’re setting a good foundation for them to be not only good readers, good writers, good mathematicians but just healthy, good individuals,” Young said. She said there are struggles with being a teacher and that she was one of the many teachers who rallied at Oklahoma City in April for more education funding. She said she believes it’s important to show students that when faced with adversity sometimes not going with what has always been done is acceptable. “It’s OK to be willing to stand up for what you feel like is right and standing together and being able to bond,” Young said. She said the rewards and struggles of being a teacher go hand in hand when coming in every day and giving her best while at the same time knowing so many kids rely on her. “I feel like everything I’ve done or wanted to do has been, at the root of it, has been I wanted to help people. I guess just to encourage people and motivate people to be the best they can be,” she said. Winning the district award puts Young in the running for Oklahoma State Teacher of the Year, which will be announced in October at the Tulsa State Fair.
BY LINDSEY BARK
Reporter
06/20/2018 09:45 AM
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Thirty-five high school and college students attended the University of Arkansas’s Indigenous Food and Agricultural Initiative fifth annual Native Youth in Food and Agricultural Leadership Summit June 7-14 at the university’s law school. Representing 20 tribes from across the nation, each student studied in one of four educational tracks pertaining to agricultural business and finance, agricultural law and policy, nutrition and health, and land use and conservation planning. “What we hope is that young people who are coming here are already leaders in their communities and tribes back home, and we hope what they take away with them are the skills they need to be that next generation of leaders and help develop their tribal food and agricultural systems in their own farms and ranches back home across the country,” Erin Parker, university research director and staff attorney, said. Parker said the summit started five years ago via a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to help youth who go into food and agricultural careers in Indian Country know the problems agricultural producers face, specifically Native American producers, and how to solve those problems. “We know from our work at the Indigenous Food and Agricultural Initiative that Indian producers face legal barriers, financial barriers that no other producer in the country faces when it comes to agriculture. Obviously dealing with an additional regulatory system through the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) around land usage and land management, it creates a lot of potential problems,” Parker said. Cherokee Nation citizen and Oklahoma State University junior Zachary Ilbery attended the summit for the fifth year in a row as a student leader and presenter. He focused on the agricultural business and finance track. “This year I was asked to apply in the agri-business and finance sector. I currently work as a loan officer/appraiser intern for Oklahoma AgCredit. I know a little bit in the business and credit side of things, so I was asked to apply to come back and dig deep into that sector,” Ilbery said. Ilbery said he wants to learn more about how agriculture in Indian Country differs. “Within Indian Country a lot of the times we don’t have the access to credit. We don’t have the access to capital. The way we manage we our natural resources is different from the way the USDA may want to manage our natural resources,” he said. “The Indigenous Food and Agricultural Initiative really is a groundbreaking opportunity for Native American, Alaskan and Hawaiian youth from all the around the nation to teach about our agricultural business and finance, credit, natural resource use.” He said he’s obtaining a degree at OSU in agricultural education, minoring in agricultural land real estate and is pre-agricultural law. He said he hopes to become an agricultural lawyer for the CN or the USDA to help improve agricultural laws. “Within the Cherokee Nation right now we have our bison herd. We have our natural resources division within the Cherokee Nation, and that’s something that the Cherokee Nation does focus a lot on is their agricultural practices. Going back and implementing some of our agricultural practices in a large perspective to better our community, to help us become self-sufficient and food sovereign, and in order to be a sovereign nation, you have to be food sovereign,” Ilbery said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
06/14/2018 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – A new bill signed into law June 12 allows Oklahoma school districts to transfer surplus land to the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation. Transferring surplus land will allow communities to grow and help their local school districts. Gov. Mary Fallin signed House Bill 1334 into law, which allows school boards to transfer land to tribal housing authorities. Two Cherokee Nation citizens authored the bill – Rep. Chuck Hoskin, of Vinita, and Sen. John Sparks, of Norman. “School districts often have undeveloped acreage with no plans to build and which is difficult to sell for market value. This law is a win-win solution for local school districts and for tribal governments. Tribal housing authorities can construct good, quality homes for tribal citizens and that provides economic growth locally as more jobs contribute to the local tax base,” Hoskin, who also serves as chief of staff for the CN, said. “This law will help so many schools, rural communities and Cherokee families prosper.” Another benefit is federal impact aid, which means school districts receive $2,800 per year for every tribal student living in a CN-built home. “The Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation is excited to see this law passed. We’re thankful to Representative Hoskin and Senator Sparks for drafting the bill, the legislators who supported it and Governor Fallin for signing it into law,” HACN Executive Director Gary Cooper said. “The Cherokee Nation has helped schools receive thousands of federal dollars in impact aid with the homes built since 2012 and that amount will climb even higher with the passage of this bill.” The tribe’s New Home Construction Program began in 2012 under Principal Chief Bill John Baker. The tribe has built more than 660 homes since then, and about 100 are under construction in northeast Oklahoma. For more information on the bill, visit <a href="http://www.okhouse.gov" target="_blank">www.okhouse.gov</a>. For more information on the New Home Construction Program, visit <a href="http://www.hacn.org" target="_blank">www.hacn.org</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
06/13/2018 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – More than 100 teachers from across northeast Oklahoma participated in science, technology, engineering and math training during Cherokee Nation’s annual Teachers of Successful Students conference. The sixth annual TOSS conference was held June 6-7 at Northeastern State University at no cost to the 140 teachers who attended. The two-day training included remarks by Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Tribal Councilor and Carl Albert State College Campus Director Bryan Warner and Chief of Staff and Oklahoma House Rep. Chuck Hoskin. It also included workshops on everything from reading strategies and using archery to finding STEM activities on a shoestring budget. “Many schools don’t have the funding to send teachers to fee-based STEM trainings, so the Cherokee Nation is helping these classroom teachers by providing them with free resources,” Warner said. “It not only counts toward professional development hours and enhances learning, but also helps students down the line in their jobs and career paths.” The tribe also awarded $10,000 total in Creative Teaching Grants to split among 10 teachers that can be used to start STEM projects in their classrooms in the coming school year. Cleora Public School’s second-grade teacher Deanna Gordon was awarded $1,000 and said she hopes it makes science more interactive for her students. “This grant is going to make it possible to make science different than what comes from the textbook,” Gordon said. “I am working on hands-on science experiments that involve butterflies and things that can get my students active in learning.” The teachers receiving $1,000 grants: • Tenkiller Public School’s Tonya Moreno for “Coding Station,” • Tenkiller Public School’s Samantha Davis for “Wonder Workshop,” • Pryor Public School’s Jeanine Clark for “A Smart Garden,” • Tahlequah Public School’s Josh Davis for “Engineering and Energy,” • Bluejacket Public School’s Tracy Mendez for “Put an A in STEM,” • Tenkiller Public School’s Sinea Girdner and Joleta Cole for “Butterfly Gardens,” • Stilwell Public School’s Angie Catron for “A High Altitude Balloon Project,” • Bluejacket Public School’s Shawn Martin for “STEM Lab Laser Cutter,” • Justus-Tiawah Public School’s Christy Sterba for “Classroom Robotics,” and • Cleora Public School’s Deanna Gordon for “Experiencing Science.”
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Reporter – @cp_bbennett
06/06/2018 08:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH – Students with the Native Explorers program participated in various traditional activities while visiting Cherokee Nation landmarks on May 22-23 as part of the program’s mission to increase Native Americans in science and medicine. “The older generations had a lot of knowledge in medicine and we think we can contribute as Native people to the current medical world,” Native Explorers Executive Director Jeff Hargrave said. “If we can get Native kids interested in medicine we can hopefully get them into medical school and they’ll be doctors and return home to Indian Country and service their fellow citizens.” Founded in 2010 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Native Explorers is offered through the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa. It partners with educational institutions and entities, including the Cherokee Nation to encourage Native American youths to explore how their cultures can intersect with science and medicine. Barbara Girty, Cherokee Heritage Center board and staff liaison, said she helped craft a “specialized itinerary” for the group during its stay. “They actually slept in the houses in Diligwa Village on the ground, and it’s a one-of-a-kind experience,” she said. “They also took a tour of the different Cherokee Nation museums around town, the John Ross Museum, the Supreme Court building, the jail. They went over and toured the Native Gardens. They were immersed into the Cherokee culture, and we hope that this will help them in their future endeavors when they go on to become doctors hopefully in our (W.W.) Hastings Hospital (in Tahlequah) taking care of our own Cherokee people.” The Native Explorers also participated in archery, blowgun and stickball competitions, as well as ate at a hog fry and witnessed ceremonial friendship and social stomp dancing. Girty coordinated the visit with program co-founder Dr. Kent Smith, professor of anatomy and associate dean for the Office for the Advancement of American Indians in Medicine and Science at OSU’s Center for Health Sciences. Smith said nine students participated this year and represented various tribal nations, including Cherokee, Comanche, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Standing Rock Sioux. “The group is made up of undergraduate students as well as professional medical students and graduate students,” he said. “The medical students and the graduate students in the group serve as mentors for the undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing a career in science and medicine. Some of our medical students participate in clinical rotations as well as residency programs at W.W. Hastings with the Cherokee Nation.” Smith said program costs are covered for students, and in addition to the learning and networking opportunities students earn three hours of college credit from OSU. Cherokee Nation citizen Jacalyn Hulsey, an East Central University student in Ada, said he was eager to participate in the program. “It’s really important to me to be in this program because it gives me an opportunity to learn who I am and get more college credit than I’ve already gotten, and it allows me to interact with other cultures besides my own.” Hulsey said she knew before gradating high school that her interest was within the medical field. “I actually knew before I graduated high school that I wanted to be a physical therapist, and so that’s kind of where I’m going in life,” she said. “I would definitely encourage anybody to do this because it’s not just learning what I know already, but I’m getting to learn other stuff about different cultures I never would have known. It’s a very wide range of stuff we’ll get to learn.” The program, which ran from May 21 to June 1, visited educators from the Chickasaw Nation, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the National Park Service in addition to Cherokee Nation staff. The group also visited select environmental regions across Oklahoma t0 study topics such as anatomy and paleontology. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.nativeexplorers.org" target="_blank">www.nativeexplorers.org</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/31/2018 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – Northeastern State University’s Alumni Association has named Cherokee Nation citizen Kaylee Switzer, of Keys, as one of the 17 Outstanding Seniors for 2018. The Outstanding Senior recognition honors graduating seniors, nominated by NSU faculty and staff, who have made significant contributions to NSU through academic achievement, campus activities, community service, honors and awards. The Alumni Association bestows this recognition for the Tahlequah and Broken Arrow campuses each spring. All honorees received a commemorative stole to be worn at graduation, a framed award certificate and a one-year membership to the Alumni Association. Alumni Association President Andrea Tucker commended the seniors for their hard work. “The accomplishments of our 2018 Outstanding Seniors have far reaching impact on NSU and their communities,” she said. “On behalf of the NSU Alumni Association, it is a privilege to bestow this award on each of them, and we’re thrilled to be a part of their journey and desire to maintain a lifelong connection with NSU.” For more information, visit <a href="http://www.nsualumni.com" target="_blank">nsualumni.com</a>.