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.”


10/05/2015 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – At its Sept. 18 meeting, the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission approved two upgrades for Cherokee Nation Entertainment’s system software. Tracy Christie, CNGC gaming systems analyst, said he reviewed all of the information provided and saw a need for an upgrade. “The issue was that there were a couple of key boxes, it was retaining the data in the actual box and whenever you logged into the web server you weren’t able to see that data, but with these two upgrades and it being tested, it resolved that issue,” he said.
10/05/2015 02:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. – The Tulsa Cherokee Community Organization will host its monthly meeting at 6 p.m. on Oct. 6 at the Tulsa United Indian Methodist Church located at 1901 North College. The meeting will feature Cherokee Nation citizen Regina Gayle (Martin) Thompson, of Locust Grove, who will bring her traditional basket weaving skills. According to TCCO officials, meeting attendees will be able to weave their own Cherokee basket. “As a certified Cherokee Nation TERO artist, Thompson is uniquely qualified to teach Cherokee basket weaving. Thompson’s award-winning Cherokee baskets are on display in public collections across the Cherokee Nation throughout northeastern Oklahoma and as far away as Washington, D.C., in the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum. Private collectors have taken her Cherokee baskets abroad to Australia, Switzerland, India, France, England,” a TCCO release states. “My mentor is the incredible Cherokee National Treasure, Bessie Russell. I am blessed and humbled by the art and skill of Cherokee double wall basket weaving. My grandmother, a full-blood Cherokee, weaved baskets to put food on the table while my grandfather served in France during World War II,” she said. “My grandmother would create mid-size baskets for the market to trade for eggs, flour, chickens, and sometimes sewing material.” All materials will be provided by TCCO through Tribal Council General Assistance grant funds provided by Dist. 13 Tribal Councilman Buel Anglen. There is no cost for the class, the release states. To contact TCCO, email <a href="mailto: tulsacherokees@gmail.com">tulsacherokees@gmail.com</a> or call TCCO President Brandon Caruso at(805) 551-6445. You can also visit TCCO’s Facebook page at Tulsa Cherokee Community Organization.
10/05/2015 10:04 AM
MURPHY, N.C. – After nearly two years of construction and $100 million Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel opened its doors on Sept. 28, according to worldcasinodirectory.com. The facility is owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and will be managed by Caesars Entertainment LLC. It’s expected to create approximately 900 to 1,000 jobs, features a 50,000-square-foot gaming floor with 70 table games and 1,050 slot machines and a full-service 300-room hotel. While the casino does not have any formal dining or restaurants, visitors will be able to choose from the Panda Express, Starbucks, Papa John’s, Earl of Sandwich and Nathan’s Famous located in the casino’s Food Market. Regional General Manager and Harrah’s Senior Vice President Brooks Robinson said the casino would positively affect the tribe and area. “For the area, we know we’re going to have around 1,000 jobs. It will put around $40 million into the local economy through payroll that will be here. For the tribe, it will just be another way to build the revenue stream and through tribal distribution. All of the projections look like it should be very successful for the tribe,” Robinson said. Estimated by officials to draw in excess of 1 million visitors annually, the Valley River Casino is the tribe’s second Harrah’s casino. The first and larger Harrah’s Cherokee Casino also located in Jackson County, sits at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It recently underwent a $650 million expansion and now boasts 150,000-square-feet of gaming space.
10/02/2015 12:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – On Oct. 22, the Beatles tribute band, The Fab Four, will perform at The Joint inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The Fab Four’s stage performances include three costume changes representing every era of the Beatles ever-changing career, from the moptop early days in London to the shaggy-haired final public performance on the Apple headquarters’ rooftop. Formed in 1997, this loving tribute to the Beatles has amazed audiences in countries around the world, including Japan, Australia, France, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Germany, Mexico and Brazil. In 2013, The Fab Four received an Emmy for their PBS special “The Fab Four: The Ultimate Tribute.” For more information about the tribute band, visit <a href="http://www.thefabfour.com" target="_blank">www.thefabfour.com</a>. Tickets go on sale Oct. 1 and start at $40. For more information, call The Joint box office at 918-384-ROCK or visit <a href="http://www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com" target="_blank">www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com</a>.
10/02/2015 10:00 AM
PHOENIX – Native American activist and Cherokee Nation citizen Jess Sixkiller was slain in a home invasion on Sept. 25. He was 78. Reports state his wife locked herself in a room and called 911 around 3:15 a.m. after she heard noises inside the home she shared with her husband. When the police arrived they removed her from the home and re-entered the home to perform a sweep and discovered the body of Sixkiller, who had been shot to death. “The Cherokee Nation and tribal citizens throughout the country lost a true champion with the tragic passing of Jess Sixkiller. He was the first Native detective on the Chicago Police Force and in Phoenix he continued to champion the rights of Indian people. He was a warrior and advocate for Native rights, especially urban-based Indian people,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker in a statement. “Throughout Indian Country, Jess will be forever known as a man committed to his Native brothers and sisters who suffered as a result of federal relocation and assimilation policies.” Baker said as the leader of the National Urban Indian Organization, Sixkiller fought tirelessly for the rights of those he said faced a different kind of crisis than Indians living close to their community or on the reservation. “Jess was a man who led by example, and I was proud to have met and known this iconic activist. He was proud to be Cherokee, and we are proud of him. He will be missed immensely, and we are holding his family in our thoughts and prayers,” Baker said. By the time he was 30 years old, Sixkiller was the first Native American to become a detective for the Chicago Police Department. Soon he gained national recognition within the National Congress of American Indians. He was an urban representative to NCAI’s annual conference in 1968 from the Chicago American Indian Center. At that conference in Seattle, Sixkiller was elected to chair a 12-person committee called the National Urban Indian Consultation that was charged with studying the issues impacting urban American Indians living away from reservations. The committee progressed rapidly and received an $88,500 grant from the Ford Foundation and formed the National Urban Indian Organization. Sixkiller became the organization’s first director. The Phoenix Police Department described the home invasion as “random” and has no suspects. Phoenix Police Homicide detectives are asking anyone who may have seen or heard anything at the time of the shooting or anyone who has information about this homicide to call Silent Witness at (480) WIT-NESS. As always, any caller may remain anonymous. A memorial fund has been set up in Sixkiller’s name at Wells Fargo Bank. Donations can be made to Wells Fargo Bank, Jess Sixkiller Memorial, account No. 2457886071.
10/01/2015 02:00 PM
VONORE, Tenn. – The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum is offering a Cherokee language class from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Oct. 19 and 26 and Nov. 2 and 9. Cost of the class is $40 for all four nights. Shirley Oswalt and Mary Brown, who are Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian citizens, will teach the class. People interested in taking this class should call the museum at 423-884-6246. In case of inclement weather, please call before coming. Sequoyah was born near the museum site in 1776. The mission of the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, a property of the EBCI, is to promote the understanding and appreciation of the history and culture of the Cherokee Indians in Eastern Tennessee, particularly the life and contributions of Sequoyah. The museum collects, preserves, interprets and exhibits objects and data that support this mission.