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.”


07/27/2015 01:09 PM
OOLOGAH, Okla. – Will Rogers and Wiley Post died in an Alaska plane crash on Aug. 15, 1935. It is often called the “crash heard around the world.” This year the Will Rogers & Wiley Post Fly-In at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch is set for Aug. 15, the 80th anniversary of the history-making event when bold headlines in newspapers all over the world carried the story. That day and the lives of the two, undoubtedly the world’s strongest aviation boosters of their time, is remembered each year on the Oologah, Indian Territory, ranch were Will Rogers was born. Usually a Sunday event, it was changed to Saturday to reflect the anniversary of the deaths, said Tad Jones, Will Rogers Memorial Museum executive director. Airports across the country have been invited to join in a special Moment of Remembrance at 10 a.m. (CST) at their respective airports to honor those who have lost their lives in a small aircraft accident. At that same time a short program at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch airstrip will pay tribute to the lives of Will and Wiley. Mary West of Oologah will sing the “National Anthem” and Ross Adkins, Fly-In announcer for the past several years, will present the commemoration program and call for a moment of silence. RSU Radio will live stream the tribute at 91.3 FM and on their website <a href="http://www.rsuradio.com" target="_blank">www.rsuradio.com</a>. The popular duo of Lester Lurk and Joe Bacon, aka “Will and Wiley,” will land about 9 a.m. The Fly-In provides an opportunity for the public to get a close-up look at airplanes and meet the pilots. Pilots enjoy the fellowship with fellow aviators and people who just enjoy planes. Cherokee Storyteller Robert Lewis will be under a shade tree with his tales of animals, so much a part of early Cherokee tradition. There will be antique cars, inflatables and games for children and food concessions. Ample parking is provided with rides to the viewing area. Roper Martin Howard and members of the Verdigris School football team have assisted with parking several years. Members of Rogers County Sheriff Mounted Troops will be on hand. Air Evac Lifetime, an air medical service, will fly in and be on hand to show their plane and provide information about the access at the Claremore Regional Airport. Ambulances from Oologah-Talala EMS and Northwest First District will have units for the public to see as well as be on hand for emergencies. Bring your own lawn chair or blanket and enjoy watching planes land and take off, walk among the aircraft, visit the house and see the room where Will was born and remember the day 80 years ago when the world learned Will and Wiley had died in Alaska. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.willrogers.com" target="_blank">www.willrogers.com</a>.
07/27/2015 09:19 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to unofficial results, Bryan Warner won the July 25 runoff for the Cherokee Nation’s Dist. 6 Tribal Council seat. Unofficial results show that Warner received 54.06 percent of votes with 619 votes, while Natalie Fullbright received 45.94 percent of votes or 526 ballots. The numbers include 23 accepted challenged ballots. Warner said he feels truly blessed by the results. “This has been a very humbling experience,” he said. He said when he takes office he wants to take a look at everything and already has an idea of what types of resources the CN needs. He added that he wants to get out and meet more people. “I still think there’s people out there that I didn’t get to visit with in this district, and I want them to feel apart of this process,” he said. Warner said he is grateful to all who cast their vote for him to be the next Dist. 6 Tribal Councilor. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. My family thanks you, all my supporters thank you,” he said. “It’s just been a wonderful experience and there’s no way I could have written it out like this at all. I can’t wait to get to work and see what we can do for Dist. 6. When I say we, I mean all of us.” Warner extended congratulations to Fullbright for a well-ran race. “Her family and all her supporters have been wonderful through this campaign, and I feel like they’re all top-notch individuals. They’ve been cordial, they been kind,” he said. “I hope that we can all get together and work together.” In a Facebook post Fullbright conceded defeat to Warner. “Well guys we lost. Not by a lot but by enough. I think a lot of Bryan, get behind him, support him, pray for him work with him,” it stated. The Cherokee Phoenix contacted Fullbright for comment. “Why in the world are you people calling me? You need to call Bryan Warner,” she said. Dist. 6 covers the eastern part of Sequoyah County. Candidates who won their races will be sworn into office on Aug. 14. According to Election Commission officials, candidates had until July 29 to file for a recount. As of publication there was no request for a recount in the Dist. 6 race.
07/27/2015 09:18 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to unofficial results, Keith Austin won the Dist. 14 Tribal Council race against William “Bill” Pearson on July 25. Unofficial results, which included 26 accepted challenged ballots, show that Austin garnered 498 votes for 53.9 percent of the ballots, while Pearson got 425 votes for 46.1 percent. Austin said he would like to thank the Cherokee Nation citizens of District 14 for allowing him the honor of being elected as their next Tribal Councilor. “I am humbled that you would place your faith and trust in me. This is a responsibility that I do not take lightly, and I will endeavor to represent you with the same energy and integrity that I have practiced throughout life,” he said. “I would like to thank Mr. Pearson for his service to our Nation, the community and his willingness to serve the Cherokee Nation. Also, I would like to thank Councilor Lee Keener for his service to District 14 on the Council and I wish him well with his future endeavors.” The Cherokee Phoenix attempted to Pearson, but he was available for comment. The EC rescheduled the Dist. 14 race after the CN Supreme Court on July 8 ruled that a winner could not be determined with mathematical certainty. Pearson was certified the winner of the Dist. 14 race after the June 27 general election by one vote. Following a recount on July 2, his lead had been extended to six votes. Austin appealed the recount results to the Supreme Court alleging that ballots were cast that should not have been accepted, ballots were cast that should have been accepted and two absentee ballot envelopes could not be found. Candidates elected to office during the general and runoff elections are to be sworn into office on Aug. 14, according to the tribe’s election timeline.
07/25/2015 10:24 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to unofficial results of the July 25 runoff election, Wanda Hatfield beat opponent Betsy Swimmer for the At-Large Tribal Council seat. Hatfield recorded 745 votes or 51.96 percent of the vote to Swimmer’s 697 votes or 48.04 percent. Hatfield, of Oklahoma City, said that on behalf of the Cherokee Nation At-Large voters, she was honored and humbled for their support. “I would like to say thank you to all the At-Large Cherokee voters who cast a ballot in the primary and runoff election,” she said. “I would like to thank Betsy Swimmer on a professional and very positive campaign for the At-Large seat and I would also like to thank my family, which was my campaign staff, for all their support.” Hatfield added that some of the areas she would like to focus on during her time as the At-Large Tribal Councilor is better communication between the tribe and the At-Large CN citizens, improving education and expanding programs to make the tribe stronger. Swimmer, of Broken Arrow, said she wanted to congratulate Hatfield and that they both ran good races. “It was a close number and we both worked hard,” she said. “It’s been a great experience and I wish Wanda the best and I’ll help her any way I can for the betterment of Cherokee Nation.” Election Services Director Connie Parnell said as of 10 p.m. the Election Commission was working to verify challenge ballots. She said at that time she did not know if any challenge ballots existed for the At-Large race. Hatfield will replace current At-Large Tribal Councilor Julia Coates after the Aug. 14 inauguration. Hatfield and Swimmer earned the right to face each other in the runoff election after placing in the top two spots against eight other candidates for the At-Large seat in the June 27 general election. In the general election, Hatfield garnered 25.94 percent or 1,057 votes, while Swimmer was second with 18.9 percent or 770 votes.
Senior Reporter
07/24/2015 02:47 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Tribal Complex is undergoing a major renovation in the form of a 31,550-square-foot second story on the west end of the building to create space for a growing workforce. The W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex opened in 1979 and was last renovated in 1992. In 1994, an addition was added to its west side that was meant to have a second story, but funding was not available to add it. The main reason the work is now being done is “space,” CN Construction Manager David Moore said. “We are busting at the seams. We’re going to be at just a little over 100 new offices up there (second floor). Our goal is to own everything our people are in instead of leasing buildings. We prefer to have them here and a majority of our services here,” Moore said. “So far it’s going pretty good.” Moore said the project’s first phase is expected to cost $6 million. The second and third phases did not have estimates as of publication because officials are still soliciting bids. Funds for the project are coming from the tribe’s Planning and Development Fund. Work on the addition began in June. Moore said the project is supposed to take one year, but may take longer. “Once we get the second story complete, we’ll have to move people out at times and they will need some place to move to for a while. And then we’re going to go into the old part (east side of building) and redo the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system,” he said. A more efficient boiler-chiller system will be installed to replace an old inefficient air system. A boiler-chiller system uses water instead of air to heat and cool a structure. Compared with air, water is a more space-efficient method of transferring heat and cold around a building, and hot and cold air will be more evenly distributed throughout the building with the new system, Moore said. “This new system will be efficient. We’ll pretty much have a brand new HVAC system throughout the building. It will be all the same. Our utility bills ought to come down,” he said. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said the tribe is investing in its future by “making some long-overdue improvements” to the Tribal Complex. “It’s been more than 20 years since we made quality improvements to our tribal headquarters, and it’s greatly needed,” he said. “We are expanding and adding more space to house our employees and make visits to our Tribal Complex easier for citizens seeking services. Over the years, our staff has grown as we keep expanding programs and services that benefit Cherokee people.” A canopy will be built over the facility’s main entry to help shelter people as they enter and exit. More than 150,000 visitors pass through the Tribal Complex annually for services or to see the government, officials said. A current open-air courtyard inside the building will be where two elevators are to be installed to access the second floor, Moore said. Three elevators will be installed to service the second story and they will all likely be needed to service more than 100 new offices. Also, having extra elevators in case one breaks down is a benefit, Moore said. He said the second story would be built to accommodate at least three departments as well as conference rooms. Officials have not determined which departments would be located on the second floor. With the addition, the Tribal Complex would be about 117,000 square feet. Excluding health centers, the CN employs 2,250 people, but only about 400 employees work in the Tribal Complex. Architectural firm Childers Architect designed the renovation project. The company also designed the Three Rivers Health Center and Vinita Health Center.
07/23/2015 04:00 PM
SAN DIEGO – The California Indian Culture & Sovereignty Center is seeking film and video entries for the third annual 2015 San Diego American Indian Film Festival. This year’s festival will be presented Nov. 19-21 at California State University-San Marcos and will conclude with a VIP reception and film screening at Pechanga Resort Casino. All genres and all lengths of films of or about North American Indian or Canada First Nation peoples will be accepted. The submission deadline is Sept. 1. Filmmakers will need to fill out and send a submission form and other required materials, which can be found at <a href="http://www.sdaiff.com/submit.html" target="_blank">http://www.sdaiff.com/submit.html</a>. All filmmakers who have submitted a film will be notified of the final status of their submission by Oct. 9. For more information, email <a href="mailto: cicsc@csusm">cicsc@csusm</a>.