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 ASSOCIATED PRESS
05/04/2016 02:00 PM
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) – A woman accused of driving her car into Oklahoma State’s homecoming parade, killing four people and injuring dozens, has pleaded not guilty to the charges against her. Cherokee Nation citizen Adacia Chambers entered her plea on May 4 in Payne County District Court after previously waiving her right to a preliminary hearing. The 25-year-old Chambers is charged with four counts of second-degree murder and more than 40 counts of assault and battery for the Oct. 24 crash. Prosecutors said Chambers intentionally drove her car around a barricade and into spectators at the parade. Her attorney, Tony Coleman, said his client is mentally ill. A pretrial conference is set for June 1, but Judge Stephen Kistler did not set a trial date after Coleman said he is still seeking information from prosecutors.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/04/2016 12:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation awarded 130 volunteer and rural fire departments with $3,500 checks totaling $455,000 on May 3 during its 2016 Volunteer Firefighter Awards Ceremony at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The tribe treated about 500 firefighters to dinner and presented each station a check to help with equipment, fuel or other items that help maintain their fire stations in northeastern Oklahoma. “Recognizing these brave men and women is one of my favorite duties as principal chief. Every unit is highly trained and skilled. These firefighters are on call 24/7, 365 days a year, and the most impressive thing is that they do all this for the love of their community and to ensure our families remain safe,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “I’m proud our tribal government sees the importance in making this annual financial commitment. Because of this money, 130 rural volunteer fire departments in northeast Oklahoma will be better equipped and better prepared when an emergency strikes.” During the ceremony, the CN named the Illinois River Fire and Rescue in Cherokee County and Afton Fire Department in Ottawa County as “2016 Volunteer Fire Departments of the Year.” In the past year, Illinois River Fire and Rescue increased its volunteer staff to 20 active members. The station formed a “brown water team” that partners with neighboring districts and counties to help with rescues after the 2015 spring flooding on the Illinois River. During the December 2015 flooding, the team worked 40 hours straight to rescue 26 people. There were no fatalities. The department was also commended by the tribe for helping victims with cleanup efforts. “The financial backing from the Cherokee Nation is tremendous, because like everyone else, money is difficult at times. It plays a major role in us being able to continue to provide the best services possible,” Gary Dill, assistant fire chief of the Illinois River Fire and Rescue, said. The Afton Fire Department responded to 325 calls in 2015. Most calls were from first responders. The department helped with grass and structure fires, and also water rescue calls. During the December flooding, the department rescued two families. The tribe honored the firefighters for their efforts, including pulling one family from an SUV that had been swept away and overturned. “It’s a real big honor to have the Cherokee Nation recognize our department as one of the volunteer fire departments of the year, but the biggest honor is having the good lord on scene with us helping in difficult situations,” Terry Miller, fire chief of the Afton Fire Department, said. The CN also named five “2016 Volunteer Firefighter of the Year” awards to the following: • Jeff Mueller, of Vinita, for eight years of service to the Centralia Fire Department in Craig County, • Jordan Shofler, of Vinita, for demonstrating courage, leadership and dedication on every call the Carselowey Fire Department receives, • Brian Gibson, of Afton, for working behind the scenes on the day-to-day operations of the Afton Fire Department, • Austin Moore, of Oologah, for his nine years of service and leading volunteer trainings every month for the Northwest Rogers County Fire Protection District, and • Gary Dill, of Tahlequah, for sharing 34 years of firefighting experience and knowledge with members of the Illinois River Fire and Rescue.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
05/03/2016 12:00 PM
LONGMONT, Colo. – Do you have a ranching or farming operation in your community and want to move it forward? Are you looking to build a sustainable tribal ranching or farming enterprise? Do you desire to increase your business knowledge and fundamentals of running and maintaining a successful agricultural business? Or perhaps you assist producers in your community with advice on how to grow their businesses and by helping them gain access to bigger and better opportunities. Or maybe you are interested in helping assess the status of your community’s food sovereignty and help make it better and stronger? If so, First Nations Development Institute has three, three-day training workshops for you. Two in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Denver are producer-focused, and one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is intended as a train-the-trainer workshop. The fee for each training is $100, which covers the cost of materials and any meals that are included. Participants will receive copies of First Nations’ The Business of Indian Agriculture curriculum and Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool. Day 1-2: The Business of Indian Agriculture producer-focused trainings in Green Bay and Denver are designed to help farmers and ranchers succeed in managing their businesses. It covers topics such as how to develop a business plan, how to set up bookkeeping systems, agribusiness economics and marketing and land use and management. It also covers important topics such as risk management, personal financial management and using credit wisely. The two-day training offers attendees the opportunity to expand their understanding and knowledge of agriculture business and the opportunity to network with other producers. The train-the-trainer workshop in Tulsa will focus on giving the technical knowledge, tools and guidance to conduct training with farmers and ranchers in a community. Day 3: The optional third day of training covers Food Sovereignty Assessment. Food has always played a central role in Native communities. It reflects environmental, economic, social and political values. For some communities today, the relationship to food is much less visible than it used to be. The diet history, gathering and consumption practices, value of food products and source of foods tell the story of a community and its people and can help define their future. For example, there are complex cause-and-effect relationships between food choices or lack thereof that have consequences for health, economy and even social implications. The Food Sovereignty Assessment Training, utilizing the Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool, is meant to begin the process of telling the food story of a community through a community-driven and participative process of data collection. The information can be used to understand community food supply chains, agricultural and food profiles, as well as community economic and health considerations. It can also be used to improve and strengthen a community's food sovereignty. The Green Bay training is sponsored and hosted by the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. The Denver and Tulsa trainings are sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Room rates vary by location, so visit the individual registration page for each event, which contain specific logistics and other information. Visit the links below for more information or to register. Green Bay: <a href="https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1822850" target="_blank">https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1822850</a> Denver: <a href="https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1833972" target="_blank">https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1833972</a> Tulsa: <a href="https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1834133" target="_blank">https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1834133</a>
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/02/2016 10:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Jacob Tanner, Sequoyah High School assistant baseball and softball coach, died on April 28 at age 61. “We are deeply saddened to unexpectedly lose such a valued and respected member of our Sequoyah High School family,” Cherokee Nation Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin said. “Coach Tanner was a great mentor, teacher and coach for our students. Today, our thoughts and prayers are with his family.” Tanner, known for always smiling, served as the assistant baseball and fast-pitch softball coach and science teacher at Sequoyah since 2006. He also sponsored the robotics program at Sequoyah. “Coach Tanner was very well liked and respected by students, staff and faculty. His passing is a great loss for our Sequoyah family, and we will miss him greatly. Right now, our thoughts and prayers are with his family, players, students, colleagues and all who will be grieving this loss,” Sequoyah Athletic Director Marcus Crittenden said. Tanner served more than 35 years in education, including his time at Sequoyah. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. on May 4 in The Place Where They Play gym.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/28/2016 10:00 AM
OCHELATA, Okla. –Tribal Councilor Dick Lay will host a community meeting from noon to 1:30 p.m. on April 30 at the Cooweescoowee Clinic. A meal will be served at noon, and officials with several CN departments will be present to explain the services they provide. For more information, call 918-822-2981.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
04/27/2016 04:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – A sample of an Oklahoma prison’s drinking water had more than 12 times the allowable amount of lead when it was tested last year – an amount so high that officials question whether it could really be that bad or if the test could have been misleading. The sample taken from the Charles E. Johnson Correctional Center in Alva was unusually high, but it came from one of 30 Oklahoma water systems that have been found to have lead levels that exceeded the federally allowable limit between Jan. 1, 2013, and Sept. 30, 2015, according to an Associated Press analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data. They were among nearly 1,400 water systems throughout the country that registered excessive lead levels in that time, the analysis showed. The ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan, where residents have been without tap water for months, has highlighted how lead-tainted water can poison children. Even low levels have been shown to affect IQ, the ability to pay attention and academic achievement. Children age 6 and under and pregnant women – whose bones pass along stored lead to infants – are considered the most vulnerable to lead, which can also damage brains, kidneys and production of red blood cells that supply oxygen. No amount of lead exposure is considered safe, but the federal government requires all water systems to maintain lead levels below 15 parts per billion in drinking water. According to a USA Today analysis of the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Information System database, three water supplies within the Cherokee Nation had levels higher than 15 ppb: Oklahoma Ordnance Works Authority in Mayes County at 21.4 ppb, LRED (Woodhaven) in Cherokee County at 17.5 ppb and Skelly School in Adair County at 15.5 ppb to 27 ppb. Cannon MHP’s water supply in McIntosh County had a level of 18.6 ppb, according to the analysis. Part of the county falls within the tribe’s jurisdiction. The Alva prison’s sample had 182 ppb. Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terri Watkins said authorities have reason to doubt whether the reported lead levels were accurate. “That facility was built in the early ‘90s – there are no lead pipes,” Watkins said. “The water is all purchased from the city of Alva, and the city of Alva water tested fine. There was only one location inside the prison that tested high.” Watkins said the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality has scheduled another test of the prison’s water system, but she didn’t know the exact date. When more than 10 percent of tap water samples in a local system contain lead levels of at least 15 ppb, the state steps in to review the water system’s treatment for corrosive properties and update the sampling schedule as necessary. In a letter sent on March 31, employees of the Oklahoma Veterans Center in Talihina were informed that drinking water from the facility tested in 2014 may have been contaminated with high levels of lead. Authorities tested a sample at 97 ppb, which is more than six times the permissible level. “Absolutely, we’re concerned, and that’s why we sent out the letter to warn everybody,” said Shane Faulkner, spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs. “There’s never been any type of people reporting being sick or not feeling well from the water. We’ve had nothing like that. So while we are showing precaution, it hasn’t really turned into a problem for us.” The health effects of lead poisoning are often only apparent months or years after exposure. Although lead exposure is most harmful for children, adults can experience serious health problems after sustained exposure to lead. For now, veterans center employees are not being told to avoid drinking the water unless they have a severely compromised immune system, Faulkner said.