Hawaiian professors help with language preservation

BY Phoenix Archives
03/12/2004 11:50 AM
Reprinted with permission from Muskogee Phoenix

By Julie Hubbard

Phoenix Staff Writer
TULSA, Okla. – The couple credited with salvaging the Hawaiian language is now helping another culture revive its dying language.

Kaunanoe Kamana and William H. Wilson, professors of Hawaiian studies and language at the University of Hawaii-Hilo and founders of “Aha Punana Leo”— immersion preschools throughout Hawaii that teach kids to be fluent speakers — were in Tulsa recently giving tips to a group of Cherokees so they can save their vanishing language.

“It’s very important to have our language,” Kamana said. “It’s the core of identity and culture.”

Through their revitalization efforts, 2,000 kids are fluent Hawaiian speakers. And now, the Cherokees, who have no fluent speakers under the age of 40, are using this model to beef up their programs, building a four-year degree program with Northeastern State University in Tahlequah to offer Cherokee language teaching degrees and eventually expand their immersion schools.

In the early 1800s, missionaries went into the string of small Pacific islands known as Hawaii. The newcomers formed schools that taught the native language, and eventually more than 100 Hawaiian-language newspapers were established.

“At one time we had the highest literacy rate in the country,” Kamana said. “But when our government was overthrown, laws were established to break up the culture.”

In 1896, American businessmen created a bill dictating that English be the official language of Hawaii and that it should be the language taught in schools. Hawaiian language lessons ceased — until Kamana and Wilson came along.

“So what caused this resurgence?” Wilson asked. “There was this Hawaiian renaissance going on in the early ’70s. People wanted to be Hawaiian more.”

Wilson and Kamana had just graduated from the University of Hawaii, which taught classes in Hawaiian but didn’t offer it as a degree program.

“No one was graduating speaking it fluently,” Wilson said.

So Kamana and Wilson stepped in and led a rebirth movement. They started a radio program in Hawaiian. They and a core group of college students started working with fluent elders, even living with them to immerse themselves in the language.

Wilson and Kamana decided to speak Hawaiian at home, without using any English. Then they had a son, whom they raised to speak only Hawaiian.

“Then we wanted our children to go to schools that taught Hawaiian,” Wilson said.

And they found others wanted it, too, so they started an immersion preschool.

“The first one failed because teachers didn’t push the language,” he said.

But they tried again. They called it “Aha Punana Leo,” meaning “language nest.”

Due to growing demand, the first public immersion school started in 1984 in the community of Kekaha. In 1987, after pushing lawmakers, a bill was passed to require bringing the language back into schools. From there, a middle school and high school were started. The community started speaking the language and parents even took classes to speak to their children, Wilson said.

“We were even shocked to see the progress,” he said.

Although many, including officials of the Department of Education, thought kids at the immersion school would fall behind in English, kids there began testing out higher than those in the other public schools, Wilson said.

Hawaii now has 12 immersion pre-schools and a host of public schools. Some who have graduated from high school have gone on to get a language teaching degree from the University of Hawaii-Hilo, he said.

“It (revitalization) can happen,” he said. “We worked with the people who wanted it and went from there.”

Cherokee Tribal Couniclor Johnny Keener says the Cherokee language started to taper off in the 1940s when schools and employers told American Indians they should speak English to be successful. And now, 64 percent of the roughly 240,000 Cherokee tribal members have never learned Cherokee. Only 4 percent of Cherokees use the language in their homes, according to a 2002 study.

“Our goal is 50 years from now to have 80 percent (fluent) speakers,” said Wyman Kirk, a strategic planner for the tribe. “If this is just the Cherokee Nation wanting this, it will never happen. We need the Cherokee language in the schools and in the communities.”

Through a federal grant, the tribe is working with the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina, the Hawaiians, the University of Kansas Anthropology and Linguistics Department, the University of Oklahoma Anthropology Department, Northeastern State University, the Cherokee Nation Child Development Center, Lost City schools and members of the community to rekindle the language.

The Cherokees have two immersion preschool classrooms and a kindergarten class at Lost City and are networking with other rural schools to someday offer the classes. The Cherokee Cultural Resource Center, which is overseeing the language revitalization, has created the Cherokee lexicon, a dictionary of more than 7,000 Cherokee words, which should be released soon.

Fluent speakers soon will be able to get formal training to teach, just as teachers of foreign languages do.

NSU is partnering with the tribe to offer a bachelor of education degree for Cherokee language teachers within the next year, said Kay Grant, NSU dean and associate professor of education.

“It’s only logical that NSU should be the one to step up,” Grant said.

The tribe also is offering language classes in the community and on its Web site, even drawing interest from people in Russia and the former Czechoslovakia, Kirk said.

Other initiatives include offering bonuses to Cherokee Nation employees who learn to speak the language and using Cherokee on road signs and in tribal health clinics.

“It’s going to happen — we’ll find a way,” Dusty Delso, Cherokee Nation executive director of education, said of reviving the Cherokee language. He said the experts are there, the interest is there, and now is time for action. “We have to find that core group of people who are dedicated and make it happen.”

News

BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
02/10/2016 02:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Election Commission on Feb. 9 voted to recommend election law changes that will go before the Tribal Council’s Rules Committee on Feb. 17. Election Commissioner Carolyn Allen made a motion that the EC adopt the law changes that were discussed during the EC’s Policy Committee meeting. Allen then made a motion to recommend those changes to the Tribal Council. One election law change the EC recommended defines “term” to mean a full four years in which the elected or appointed officer may perform the functions of office…and shall not include the remainder of any unexpired or partial year. Another recommendation adds language that fines $5,000 to any person who fails to file as a candidate for office after receiving in-kind contributions and/or raised funds in excess of $1,000. Also on Feb. 9, the EC voted to purchase a safety deposit box and selected the commissioners and staff needed to be able to retrieve the box. The Rules Committee is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. on Feb. 17. The election law amendment item is No. 8 under New Business, according to the Rules Committee agenda.
BY STAFF REPORTS
02/09/2016 04:30 PM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – Steve Gragert, former Will Rogers Memorial executive director, will open the 2016 Milam Lecture Series telling about his Aug. 15 visit to the plane crash site that claimed the lives of Will Rogers and Wiley Post. Rogers and Post died Aug. 15, 1935, in Point Barrow, Alaska. The lecture will be at 7 p.m. on Feb. 18 in the Will Rogers Memorial Museum Theatre in Claremore. Admission is free and open to the public. Gragert, who started his involvement with Will Rogers in 1967 working on the Will Rogers Research project at Oklahoma State University, was named museum director in 2006, serving until 2014. He edited or co-edited 17 of the 22 volumes in the scholarly series “The Writings of Will Rogers,” published by OSU and two volumes of “The Papers of Will Rogers.” Gragert is also expected to share his most recent research on Will Rogers the humanitarian. For more information, call 918-341-0719 or toll free 1-800-324-9455.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
02/09/2016 01:15 PM
GLENPOOL, Okla. – Deputy Principal Chief S. Joe Crittenden and Cherokee artist Bill Glass Jr. were honored at the 2016 Greater Tulsa Indian Art Festival on Feb. 5 at the Glenpool Expo Center. As part of its 30th anniversary, the GTIAF honored veterans and Native Code Talkers. Crittenden, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, said he was surprised and humbled at being selected as the honorary chairman of the GTIAF. “The theme of this year’s festival was honoring our veterans and Code Talkers,” he said. “CNB (Cherokee Nation Businesses) represented the Cherokee Nation with a sponsorship at the Bear level, $5,000.00. It is my understanding that we have helped with this event in the past.” According to the GTIAF program, Crittenden is a champion for the rights and privileges of American military veterans, and during his tenure as deputy principal chief he has supported programs to better serve the brave men and women who have served the United States. Among the featured artists was Glass, who was honored as the elder artist. According to the GTIAF, the festival annually honors a Native American artist whose support of American Indian art has been extraordinary throughout his or her lifetime. “It’s an honor and its fun to see the new artists that are coming up and doing so good. I always think of art as cultural retention for our tribes,” Glass said. “This is the first time in a long time that I’ve been here. Some friends nominated me and it’s an honor to be selected.” This year’s featured artist was Choctaw Nation citizen Gwen Coleman Lester, who paints and draws Choctaw history, legends and culture. According to the GTIAF, “Lester began her artistic career in the commercial sector and gradually moved to fine art working in colored pencil, charcoal, pastel, watercolor, acrylic, and occasionally oils.” A primary mission of the festival has been to provide scholarships to Native students. Money raised via sponsorships and auctions helps aid that cause. The weekend event included an art market, cultural demonstrations, silent and live auctions, honor dances and Cherokee fiddling. “Today the Greater Tulsa Indian Art Festival is a national premier juried art show, which showcases Native art, cuisine and entertainment. Most importantly, many Native students have been recipients of the Festival’s scholarship program. Scholarships began in the early 1990s,” a GTIAF official said. The art festival is a project of the National Indian Monument and Institute, a national non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.
BY TRAVIS SNELL
Assistant Editor – @cp_tsnell
02/09/2016 08:45 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Officials with the Cherokee Nation’s Election Commission are urging CN citizens who want to vote in the 2017 Tribal Council elections to register to vote or ensure that their voter registration information is correct at the Election Commission Office. “The 2017 election year is fast approaching and we would like to encourage the Cherokee citizens who would like to vote in the 2017 Council elections to register to vote,” an EC press release states. “Registered voters of the Cherokee Nation who have had an address or name change should also complete a voter registration form and submit to the Election Commission Office to update your registration information.” According to the release, a registered voter living in the tribe’s jurisdiction who has moved to a new district and wishes to change precincts within his or her district shall re-register for a new district and/or precinct on or before the last business day in March of the election year. In 2017, that day will be Friday, March 31. According to CN law, every resident registered voter shall be registered to vote in the district of his or her residence. Also, a resident registered voter shall have the right to vote only for a Tribal Council candidate of the district in which the voter resides and cannot vote for a candidate of any other district. Tribal Council seats that are up for election next year are districts 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 15, and one At-Large seat. EC officials said At-Large registered voters should be registered to vote in the At-Large District, unless a voter has elected to remain a voter in a district pursuant to Article VI, Section 3 of the CN Constitution. At-Large voters who move to new at-large address should provide the EC their new addresses for registration and mailing purposes. At-Large voters who move to addresses within a jurisdictional district should reregister within the district of their new addresses. EC officials also stressed that tribal citizenship cards do not automatically register citizens to vote in CN elections and that citizens wanting to vote must register with the EC. According to CN law, one must be 18 years old as of the election day to register to vote. Also, a person must be registered to vote no later than the last business day in March of the election year. Registration and change of address forms are available at the EC Office located at 22116 S. Bald Hill Road or online at <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/election" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org/election</a>. For more information, call 918-458-5899 or toll free at 1-800-353-2895. One can also email <a href="mailto: election-commission@cherokee.org">election-commission@cherokee.org</a> or visit <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/election" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org/election</a>. The EC’s mailing address is P.O. Box 1188 Tahlequah, OK 74465.
BY STAFF REPORTS
02/08/2016 01:30 PM
VIAN, Okla. – Volunteers are needed to help plant river cane at the Sequoyah Wildlife Refuge near Vian from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Feb. 19, 22 and 23. The refuge can be reached by taking exit 291 (Gore exit) off I-40. Go approximately one mile south until one sees Red Gate on the right. Volunteers may work one day, two days or all three days. The tribe began a River Cane Initiative in 2010 to preserve, map and perpetuate the growth of river cane in the tribe’s jurisdiction in northeastern Oklahoma. Cherokee Nation administrative liaison Pat Gwin and researcher for the initiative, Roger Cain, have located and cataloged river cane on more than 60 acres of tribal land. However, not much of the river cane found on the 60 acres of tribal land is fit for “traditional art” such as baskets, Cain said, because it has not been taken care of and is attempting to grow under the canopy of trees. River cane once grew 40 feet tall in the area, he said, but now cane growing only approximately 20 feet tall can be found. River cane was the Cherokees’ plastic, Cain said. It was used for shelter, weapons (bows, arrows, knives, blowguns), mats, chairs, food, and supplied material for baskets. Also, research has found river cane riparian zones significantly reduce nutrient loads into area streams, creeks and rivers. This research has implications for the controversial issue of local poultry farmers allegedly polluting the Illinois River with runoff containing poultry waste. Large areas of river cane known as canebrakes were once abundant along river bottoms in the southeastern United States. Canebrakes are now considered critically endangered ecosystems due to agriculture, grazing, fire suppression and urbanization. A 98 percent decline in canebrakes has occurred since Europeans first made contact with Native people in North America about 500 years ago, Cain said. Gwin said canebrakes also would likely lesson the affects of flooding in low-lying areas if they still existed next to streams and rivers in urban areas. For more information, call Gwin at 918-453-5704 or email <a href="mailto: pat-gwin@cherokee.org">pat-gwin@cherokee.org</a>, Sequoyah Wildlife Refuge biologist Dustin Taylor at 918-773-5251 or email <a href="mailto: dustin_taylor@fws.gov">dustin_taylor@fws.gov</a> or call Cain at 918-696-0521 or email <a href="mailto: rivercane@gmail.com">rivercane@gmail.com</a>.
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
02/08/2016 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Housing Rehabilitation program may be on the move to the Housing Authority of Cherokee Nation. At its Jan. 19 meeting, the HACN board of directors unanimously approved two resolutions that would facilitate moving the tribe’s Housing Rehabilitation program from the tribe’s Community Services to the HACN, pending approval by Cherokee Nation. As of Feb. 5, no move had been made, nor had any timeline been given for the proposed change. If the switch ultimately happens, approximately 80 tribal employees would be shifted to the HACN. One of the two resolutions approved by the HACN board would allow those employees to keep their accrued leave balances, as well as their original dates of seniority. As of publication, neither Community Services Director Ron Qualls nor HACN Executive Director Gary Cooper responded to multiple requests for comment regarding the possible move. During the Jan. 19 meeting, Cooper noted that the HACN has a similar agreement in place with employees who transfer from Cherokee Nation Businesses and described the potential move as “apples to apples.” “This would allow…whenever Cherokee Nation decides what they’re going to do on their end and we’re ready to hire folks over here, this will allow me to make sure that those accrued leave balances to remain,” he said at the meeting. If the move occurs, it would not be the first time employees were transferred from one entity to the other. In May 2008 the Cherokee Nation took the duties of providing housing to Cherokee citizens away from the HACN by transitioning seven programs from the HACN to the tribe. According to a 2009 Cherokee Phoenix article, tribal officials at that time said moving the HACN programs to the tribal administration would better coordinate programs and reduce costs, allowing more money to go to housing services. The transition of services from the HACN also meant moving employees to the CN. According to the 2009 story, 160 HACN employees transferred to the Nation, while about a dozen took severance packages instead of transferring. Following the election of Principal Chief Bill John Baker in 2011, the tribe transitioned back to building homes for Cherokee citizens through the HACN. The HACN was initially formed in 1966 to provide safe and sanitary housing to low income Native Americans by providing low rent apartments, homeownership through the construction of Mutual Help Homes and rental assistance.