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 STAFF REPORTS
08/18/2017 03:15 PM
ROCKY MOUNTAIN, Okla. – The Rocky Mountain Community Organization is hosting two events in August at its community building near Stilwell. RMCO will host the Adair County Historical & Genealogical Association at 6 p.m., Aug. 22. ACH&GA volunteers will be on hand to discuss area history and genealogy. Beans and cornbread will be served at 5:30 p.m., and everyone is welcome to attend. The Adair County Historical & Genealogical Association is a non-profit organization maintained by volunteers. Located in the rehabilitated 1915 Kansas City Southern Railroad Depot in Stilwell, the association collects countywide research materials, genealogies of county families and artifacts of historical and cultural significance. Volunteers provide research and genealogical assistance to individuals interested in learning more about their family’s past. Tours of the county history museum provide access to artifacts that provide a deeper appreciation of the county’s history. Also, at 7 p.m., Aug. 26, RMCO will host a Movie Night where “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” will be shown. Admission is free, and the concession stand will open at 6 p.m. Seating is available, but moviegoers are welcome to bring their own chairs. People also have an opportunity to win a door prize by signing in when they arrive. For more information, call 918-696-4965.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
08/18/2017 08:15 AM
OOLOGAH, Okla. – For more than 20 years, the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore has paid homage to Will Rogers and Wiley Post with an annual fly-in at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch. Rogers, a Cherokee Nation citizen, and Post, a famed aviator, died in a plane crash on Aug. 15, 1935, in Point Barrow, Alaska. Tad Jones, the museum’s executive director, said this year commemorates the 82nd anniversary of their passing. “His (Rogers) character is what we want to try to keep alive. He was a guy that respected everybody, which I think it’d be great for our entire nation now to show that respect towards others,” he said. “I know Will Rogers, if he was here, he would love it because he was a man that just loved action activities, and this event has just gotten to be huge over the last number of years.” The event kicked off at 7:30 a.m. Jones said people and planes began arriving as early as 6:45 a.m. The free event offered more than 100 planes, a car show, Cherokee storytelling, 19th century games for children and the opportunity to tour Rogers’ birthplace home. The planes landed on an airstrip adjacent to the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch allowing visitors to get an up-close look at them. “You get to walk around with the planes, so it’s not just looking at them from a distance. But when they land you can walk out among the planes, and sometimes they’ll let you sit in the cockpits,” Jones said. Rogers’ great-granddaughter, Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry, said the event is a great way to continue Rogers’ legacy while helping others learn his story. “This is what I love the most is seeing these young children out here with a mixture of older generations because that’s who needs to learn about Will Rogers is these up-and-coming children,” she said. “I am just so grateful that people want to continue his legacy, and to bring their families out to something that’s a tradition like this. And what better place than his actual birth home.” Rogers-Etcheverry said seeing people honor Rogers’ means “everything” to her. “There’s nothing negative when you talk to people who remember him or have heard about him, it’s always positive,” she said. “He was such a role model to so many people, so that means everything to me.” Tribal Councilor Keith Austin said the tribe annually contributes to the museum and ranch to ensure they remain “healthy and strong.” This year the CN gave $25,000. “This is a state of Oklahoma facility, and they are really struggling with their budget,” he said. “It’s important to us as Cherokee people to support this and make sure that it remains healthy and strong.” For the past three years there has also been a National Day of Remembrance during the fly-in for those who have died in small airplane crashes. “We have Will and Wiley who died in a small airplane crash, and so we want to honor anyone who has died in a small airplane crash. You hear a tragedy with the big airplanes, but there is a lot of people who have passed away in small airplane crashes,” Jones said. “At 10 o’clock (a.m.) we have a National Day of Remembrance that we put on Facebook all over the country, and we honor those that have died in small airplane crashes. We have a 35 second moment of silence, which is for 1935 when Will Rogers and Wiley Post died.” For more information, visit <a href="http://www.willrogers.com" target="_blank">www.willrogers.com</a>.
BY LINDSEY BARK
News Writer
08/17/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Dr. Mike Dobbins, of Fort Gibson, said he’s ready to serve his first term as the Dist. 4 Tribal Councilor and looks to improve the Cherokee Nation’s health care system. Dobbins will take his councilor seat with 37 years of experience in health care, practicing dentistry for 20 of those years. “I chose to run because from a distance I’ve become quite familiar with the Cherokee health system, and there are some great things about it. The framework’s in place…and a lot of good has transpired. With my experience I feel like I can lend some expertise to help improve the system. That was my primary motive in running for council...to see what I could do to improve the health care system,” Dobbins said. He said he has more to learn about the CN Health Services and how it functions on a daily basis. Dobbins is also involved in higher education, teaching at dental schools for the past 17 years and assisting Cherokee students interested in health care. “I’ve assisted multiple Cherokee students with scholarship opportunities, not only with Cherokee scholarships, but with other Native American scholarships and try to help them go through college with little-to-no debt as possible,” he said. He said in Dist. 4, he’s also heard concerns from CN citizens about housing issues. “I’m also knowledgeable of the fact that there’s a lot of other Cherokee needs (including) infrastructure, housing, elder care. I’m also sensitive to those areas as well. I plan to be a multi-purpose councilman,” Dobbins said. “I’m on the outside right now, but I intend to see (and) get familiarized with the housing program and make sure that citizens of District 4 are considered for any housing possibilities.” The 2017 Tribal Council election was Dobbins’ second attempt at becoming a CN legislator. He said he learned from his “mistakes” four years ago and that it was a “less stressful” campaign this time around. “I ran four years ago and lost by two (votes) to an 18-year incumbent,” he said. “You learn by experience, and I enlisted more help, actually, this time. I tried to do a lot of myself four years ago. I’d say…most importantly I learned what not to do rather than what to do.” Dobbins said he has an obligation to serve not only the CN citizens who helped or voted for him, but also those who did not. “I’m their councilman now, and I feel a deep debt of obligation to fulfill that duty,” he said. “I just look forward to serving the Cherokee people on the council. I do have a busy schedule but I feel like I will be accessible. I have a busy schedule outside my councilman responsibilities, but my councilman responsibility will be my priority.”
BY LINDSEY BARK
News Writer
08/16/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – E.O. Smith, of Vian, on Aug. 14 will begin serving his first term as the Dist. 5 Tribal Councilor after winning a July 22 runoff election. He will take the seat being vacated by Tribal Councilor David Thornton. Smith won the runoff against Cherokee Nation citizen Uriah Grass by receiving 52.26 of the vote. He previously spent eight years as a CN Food Distribution warehouse manager in Sallisaw. His platform includes improving education, employment and health care for Cherokees. “I want to help. There’s some of these families, they don’t need to live in the condition they live in. (Cherokee) Nation is strong but I’d like to help make it stronger. I just care about people…I just want to make things better for District 5,” he said. Born in Mexico, Smith moved to Vian with his mother and father at age 2. “My dad was a farmer, and back then there wasn’t any farm aid or anything, and a flood wiped them out and they lost everything they had. So he had to move out to Mexico and worked in the oil fields, saved up money to come back home,” he said. After seeing his father’s work ethic and ability to move back to the United States to become a business owner, Smith followed in father’s footsteps by becoming a business owner, operating two stores in Vian for 29 years. Smith was also involved with youth and youth sports, coaching sports teams for more than 42 years. “That’s my passion. That’s what I love to do. I like working with kids,” Smith said. As a councilman for the city of Vian, Smith said he see too many young people, Cherokees and non-Cherokees, with no desire to work and wants to motivate them to find jobs. Smith said in his travels in the CN, about 85 percent of people he talked to brought up improving health care, especially for elders. “Overall, I just want to help improve things. I’m for all the programs we got going. I don’t want to cut any. I’d like to see some improve,” he said. He said he had a tough election but is ready to get his feet on the ground and see what lies ahead of him as a Tribal Councilor to improve programs and other issues in the CN and Dist.5 “We all want good things for the (Cherokee) Nation, or we wouldn’t be running. I’m just so excited for this chance. I can’t wait to get started. I really want to try to help. I’m 66. I feel good and this may be my last chance to do something good,” Smith said. Smith said he is creating an office in Vian where he will be available from 9 a.m. to noon five days a week and will also be accessible by phone at 918-705-1845. “Let’s pull together and help me make this a good four years. Let’s don’t fight. Let’s pull together,” Smith said.
BY CHANDLER KIDD
Intern
08/16/2017 12:00 PM
JAY, Okla. – After winning a July 22 runoff, Mike Shambaugh is the new Tribal Councilor for Dist. 9, which covers the southern half of Delaware County and part of eastern Mayes County. The current chief of police in Jay, whose has been involved with law enforcement for 28 years, said he’s a goal-oriented person, and it’s been a lifelong goal to serve on the Tribal Council. Shambaugh obtained that goal after by earning 54.96 percent of the vote in the runoff against Cherokee Nation citizen Clifton Hughes. “The opportunity came up, and I thought it would be a great time to run and I won,” he said. Shambaugh said he began his career in law enforcement as a patrolman and worked his way to a district attorney investigator. As Jay’s chief of police and holding an administrator position, Shambaugh is accustomed to dealing with people’s problems in a professional way, he said. “You have to learn to listen as an administrator. Everybody has a story to tell when they have a problem,” Shambaugh said. “The first thing that is out of my mouth is ‘What can I do to help you today?’ I want to know how to help them or where I can send them to get help.” He said he’s most excited to be working and meeting people of Dist. 9 while representing the CN as a whole. He also said he plans to incorporate his experience with doing paperwork to help CN citizens get services while he serving for the next four years. “A lot of people have trouble doing paperwork with the Cherokee Nation because it is pretty extensive in some areas. Well, I would be willing to sit down with them and even write it out for them if they were having trouble filling it out,” he said. Shambaugh added that he believes it is important for people outside of the CN to know the Cherokee people are here to help. He stated that the Nation is always pushing forward to make things better for its people. During his time as a tribal legislator, he said wants to work to improve elder care. “I have already had four of five phone calls from people who need help, and my job hasn’t even started yet. Whether it is handicap ramps or something else,” he said. “Health care, elder care and education are three big things with me, and the Cherokee Nation has shown that these are important issues with them also.” Shambaugh said he’s proud of his Cherokee heritage, and to honor it while on the Tribal Council he said he plans on incorporating his board position at the United Way in hopes of delivering school supplies to schools in the CN that need assistance. “My mother was full blood, and my family as far back as I first remember spoke mainly Cherokee when I was young. Everything that I have seen with the Cherokee Nation has made me proud because the Nation has made great strides to help their citizens,” he said. Shambaugh and the other eight Tribal Councilors who won seats in this year’s elections were inaugurated on Aug. 14.
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Multimedia Producer – @cp_rgraham
08/15/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The former Cherokee Nation Marshal Service building located west of the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex has had many uses since it was built in the 1980s, but its days are numbered. The building will soon be taken down to provide more parking for the Tribal Complex, on which a second story was recently added to provide more office space and accommodate the tribe’s courts. “The building will be disassembled rather than demolished,” CN Construction Project Administrator Paul Crosslin said. “We’re hoping we can save some parts for future construction projects.” Crosslin said he is not certain when the building will be disassembled. Tests such as tests for asbestos levels first need to be completed. “We’re hoping to start the disassembly next week (week of Aug. 14) but that decision hasn’t been made yet,” he said. Longtime CN employees estimate the building was constructed in the mid-1980s as a green house with no insulation. In the 1990s, the building housed the Cherokee Gift shop. “I worked there when I started in 1992,” Cherokee Gift Shop General Manager Linda Taylor said. “That was before the gift shop was moved to the front of the Cherokee Nation Annex building. CNMS Capt. Danny Tanner said the building housed the CNMS from 2001 until this past March. “Our new location (inside the Cherokee Nation EMS building east of the Tribal Complex) was actually built for the Marshal Service, but the CN Election Commission ended up moving in,” he said. Tanner said he was grateful the CNMS was able to move to its new location. “This is where Cherokee Marshal Service should be located.”