Teams compete head-to-head during the recent Cherokee Language Bowl held at Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla. The bowl encourages students to study and use the Cherokee language. COURTESY OF CN COMMUNICATIONS
Students compete in Language Bowl competition
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Recently, the Cherokee Nation held its annual Cherokee Language Bowl, a competition between CN-area students that encourages the study and use of the Cherokee language.
“The language bowl is a place where many of the students shine,” said Sue Thompson, CN Cherokee language specialist. “The competitive setting raises self-esteem while giving students an opportunity to show off not only the Cherokee words and phrases they have learned, but also the sounds of the Cherokee syllabary.”
The CN has held a language bowl for the past 11 years. According to the tribe’s website, this year more than 290 Cherokee students competed in 58 teams and collectively took home $6,000 in awards.
Each team consists of five players. They compete in several rooms ending with winners in each division for first, second and third place. Each student winning first place receives $50, second place receives $40 and third place receives $30.
“The Cherokee Nation is committed to preserving our language and keeping our youth connected to our culture in every way possible,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “The language bowl contest is a way for our students to demonstrate those skills in a fun environment.”
Several schools represented more than one teach in each division.
Grove and Collinsville were the Division 1 first place winners, which included kindergarten through second grade. Collinsville also took home second place along with Kenwood. Belfonte – Bell and Kenwood rounded out that division in third place.
Third through fifth grade made up Division 2. Two teams from Grove and one from Salina took home first place. Claremore, Kenwood and Salina took second place and Collinsville, Kenwood and Claremore took home third place.
Division 3 consisted of middle school students in grades sixth through eighth. Two teams from Grove and one team from Pryor took home $50 each and the first place title. Second place winners were Pryor and two teams from Grove. Rounding out the division with third place finishes were Collinsville, Catoosa and Maryetta.
High School students in grades ninth through twelfth made up Division 4. Teams from Sequoyah High School and Grove won first and second place. Grove also won third place in the division along with Tahlequah.
All participating students and two guests of their choice will attend the Cherokee Language Bowl Awards Ceremony and luncheon on May 10 to receive awards and plaques.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Officials with the Cherokee Nation’s Career Services said about 30 people who have taken General Equivalency Diploma tests through its Alternative Education and Assessment program now have passing grades after the national score dropped from 150 to 145 in January.
Landra Alberty, Alternative Education and Assessment manager, said her office received notice days after the Jan. 20 revision that lowered passing grades to 145. She said the revised score is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014, and affects the scores of 29 people who took computer-based GED tests at CN testing sites.
“So anyone who has taken all of the test or a part of the test since Jan. 1, 2014, and scored 145 or more have passed that subject,” Alberty said. “We have some (clients) in our department that we can’t get a hold of that have done that very thing. They may only need one or two subjects to get their diploma, so we’re trying to get in touch with everybody we can and let everybody know.”
However, Alberty said it would be March 1 before the score changes could be implemented through <a href="http://www.myged.com" target="_blank">www.myged.com</a> or <a href="http://www.diplomasender.com" target="_blank">www.diplomasender.com</a> for state and GED testing services such as transcripts and diplomas.
According to GED Testing Service.com, the GED score was lowered to 145 because data show that GED graduates are performing as well as, and in many instances, outperforming high school graduates in terms of not needing remediation when entering postsecondary programs.
National GED officials also implemented a GED College Ready score of 165 and a GED College Ready + Credit score of 175. In addition to the scoring changes, the GED testing service is making changes to the social studies test. Effective March 1, social studies tests will no longer have the extended response items and testing time will drop by 20 minutes.
“They had an essay question and now they’re going to take that off. They (students) won’t have to do that. They call it an extended response,” Alberty said. “The testing time for the social studies (test) will be reduced by 20 minutes. It’s going to go from 90 minutes to 70 minutes due to the adjustment.”
She said there are GED tests in four subjects: reasoning through language arts, science, social studies and math. For a person to earn a GED, he or she must pass now score 145 or higher in all four subjects.
Alberty said the CN conducts GED classes and testing for the state in Claremore, Jay, Kansas, Collinsville, Pryor, Sallisaw, Stillwell, Tahlequah, Tulsa, Warner and Westville. She said the service is open to everyone, but if an individual wants the tribe to pay for tests he or she must be enrolled in a federally recognized tribe and live within the CN jurisdiction. Testing amounts for each of the four subjects is $34.
“We don’t just serve Cherokees. Our testing services are open to everyone,” Alberty said. “There could be a lot of people that come through for testing we didn’t pay for, but we did test them in our testing center.”
She added that applicants must meet other guidelines as well such as being able to pass a GED practice test.
Alberty said the Alternative Education and Assessment program helped 165 Native Americans pass GED tests in 2015, and believes that with the passing score being lowered more people may seek their high school equivalency diplomas.
“So I think now that they’ve lowered the score a little bit and changed the format of the social studies test more people will complete the requirements to receive their high school equivalency diplomas.
For more information on the tribe’s GED testing, call 918-458-0577, email <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a> or visit <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/Services/Career/AssessmentandCertifications.aspx" target="_blank">http://www.cherokee.org/Services/Career/AssessmentandCertifications.aspx</a>.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – John Standingdeer Jr., an Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians citizen, is slated to present his patented Cherokee language learning software at the Indigenous Languages Summer Institute May 29 to June 2 at the University of North Carolina Asheville.
The institute will bring together 20 citizens of Native American tribes from across the country to test the software and determine if it is an option to help save their respective languages.
“We have an invitation out to certain tribes if they want to come and look and see what we do, what we can do with our language,” Standingdeer said. “Hopefully they will be able to follow suit.”
After nine years of creating the software, Standingdeer was issued Patent Number US 9,158,762 B2 on Oct. 13. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office called it a “new and useful invention” for the “Deconstruction and Construction of Polysynthetic Words for Translation Purposes.”
Standingdeer offered “black snake” as an example, or “galegi” in Cherokee. He said the word has no reference to the words “black” or “snake,” but does mean “one who is climbing continuously.” This root word can then be taken and analyzed by his software, which can determine the patterns needed to conjugate 10 pronouns as well as past, present and future tenses.
Institute organizer Barbara Duncan said she is excited to host to tribes.
“We really think that this method works for other Native languages because they all have the same underlying structure, that really, when you look at that, when you strip away comparisons to English or comparisons to linguistic categories, this underlying structure can really make all these languages easier to learn,” she said.
Duncan holds a doctorate in folklore and works at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina. She is also a second-language learner who tried for 20 years to become fluent through methods such as tapes, books and connecting with speakers. When those methods failed, she became disheartened.
“No one could explain to me the principles or the rules or just how to change the meaning to say what I wanted to, and I asked speakers and scholars and I just ended up feeling really stupid,” she said.
When Standingdeer came to her in 2006 wanting her to confirm his method of locating patterns in root words, Duncan said she was “at her wit’s end” and “willing to try anything.”
“It was his firm belief that there had to be a pattern, so that’s what we looked at and that’s what we found,” she said. “And so having this pattern, like every word is like a math equation, and it’s the same math equation for every word. So once you understand what that is, then it becomes really simple to change those parts of the word.”
Standingdeer said he did not grow up speaking the language in part because his parents taught him to walk away and not ask questions when adults conversed in Cherokee, as a sign of respect.
“I am Cherokee. Everything about me, my blood, my name, the way I grew up within my community, the dances. All of this is Cherokee except my tongue. My tongue was not Cherokee,” he said.
He said many methods he tried to learn were too focused on memorization, comparing the experience to a parrot being trained to ask for a cracker rather than understanding how the language worked.
Discovering the pattern to create the software was his personal breakthrough. “From what I understood, this language has never been programmed. It was considered impossible.”
Duncan said she believes the institute could lead to a brighter future for participating tribes.
“We’re not going to figure it all out in a week, of course, but at least we get to begin a conversation and have people take a look at our method and how it works and see if they’re interested in trying to apply it to their languages,” she said.
By visiting the website www.yourgrandmotherscherokee.com, those eager to learn can test the software by using a dictionary that allows the option of searching in English and Cherokee, as well as the syllabary.
Users can also purchase memberships, which gives access to two online language courses and more than 70,000 language entries, including 129 root words and two dialects.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – While many schools within the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction are struggling with the Oklahoma State Board of Education’s decision to cut education funding by $47 million this year, tribal officials said the Cherokee Immersion Charter School would not be affected.
“No classrooms or students will be directly impacted this school year as a result of state education cuts, which is just one of many sources of funding encompassing the Cherokee Immersion Charter School’s budget,” Dr. Neil Morton, Education Services senior advisor, said.
On Jan. 7 the state board voted to approve roughly $47 million in budget cuts from Oklahoma public schools. The figure represents about 3 percent of each school district’s fiscal year budget ending June 30.
To help alleviate the strain on schools using the per-student formula, the board recommended making deeper cuts to specific programs.
Areas affected include a 55 percent reduction in advanced placement teacher training and testing fee assistance, a 30 percent reduction in school lunch matching funds and a 50 percent reduction in staff and teacher development. State funds allocated for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, were eliminated completely.
Holly Davis, Cherokee Immersion Charter School principal, said the school would not be forced to cut back as other schools are halfway through the fiscal year.
“We are fortunate that the Cherokee Nation supports education, as it should be,” Davis said. “The majority of our funds come from the Cherokee Nation, so state budget cuts will not impact our school like other public schools who rely solely on state funding.”
Morton said the tribe’s Education Services is monitoring any future funding discussions, but as of publication, it is business as usual.
“The Cherokee Nation continues its effort to preserve our cultural identity by funding the immersion school each year with about $2 million in tribal funding so that our youngest generations continue to learn and speak the Cherokee language to carry it on,” he said. “That mission will not change.”
The cuts come after state finance officials declared a revenue loss in December, largely due to struggles within the oil and gas industry.
While the immersion school may not see reductions, other schools within the CN territory could be forced to cut back on staff or close.
Salina Public School Superintendent Tony Thomas said his district is trying to survive amid the projected cuts, which he estimates to be between $55,000 to $70,000 at the school.
“We have already cut programs and have had class sizes increase because of funding cuts since 2009,” Thomas said. “We have lost over $600,000 just in state aid since 2009. We will continue to look for all areas where we can cut back in spending. Salaries are the biggest area, but we will also cut back on professional development and travel and the purchasing of new items at this time.”
Thomas said he plans to continue operations without cutting staff, but knows difficult decisions are still coming, as the state will face an even bigger budget deficit of $900 million in the next fiscal year.
“In the next few months we will formulate a plan to not only deal with the current cuts but also the suspected 7 percent cut we may take with the budget next school year,” he said. “With the anticipation of the state having $900 million dollars less to spend next year, there is no way that education will not take a big hit for next year.”
Stillwell Public Schools Superintendent Geri Gilstrap said her school will be forced to make a $100,000 cut and is concerned about the possibility of more before the end of the fiscal year.
“We have worked diligently to secure grant funds to offset the budget cuts for years now and have watched our carryover funds closely as we continue to be cut in funding,” she said. “Grant writing and donations from private donors used to supplement our budget, and now those are vital dollars helping supply our students with the updated programs and equipment they need and deserve.”
She cited the lack of funding for STEM programs as particularly troubling, saying it jeopardizes the vision she has to provide an education that “envelopes individual potentials, creating well-rounded, college- and trade school-ready students.”
The cuts have both districts watching state lawmakers closely.
“We must continue to make our voice heard among our legislators that determine where the funding goes,” Gilstrap said. “We must continue to suggest to the legislators that better financial decisions be made in order to insure the children of Oklahoma are made a priority.”
Thomas agreed. “We need to fix these problems at the state level and the legislature, along with the governor, who needs to put education first,” he said. “The kids of this state deserve better than what we are giving them.”
FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Long hours and determination has helped Cherokee Nation citizen Ethan Lester achieve his goal of being accepted into Yale University.
Sleep deprivation from hours of studying has paid off as he enrolls at Yale this fall.
“It takes a ridiculous amount of work,” he said. “I’ve worked for hours and hours and hours on end. There have been streaks of weeks on end where I’ve gotten three hours of sleep each night, just like staying up and doing homework.”
Lester attends Hopkins School in New Haven, Connecticut. He said attending the preparatory institution, which was built in 1660, has helped him on his path to Yale.
“Hopkins, it has really prepared me for Yale,” he said.
Lester said he started wanting to attend an Ivy League university while in middle school.
“I decided that I wanted to apply early there (Yale) my freshman year, I think. So it’s been a long work in progress. I would say probably back in middle school, maybe back in sixth grade or something like that, I’d been working at it since then,” he said. “It started to solidify around seventh and eighth grade and then from there it was just basically working hard all through high school, with Yale as my dreams.”
Aside from taking Advance Placement calculus, chemistry and Spanish classes, Lester said he is head of the debate team, sings in concert choir and a senior mentor for incoming freshman.
“I give them advice, and I’m just kind of like a friendly face on campus,” he said.
Lester said within his busy schedule he still finds time to have a social life.
“I think it’s important to have a mix of both academic stuff and stuff you do outside of school, whether it’s like sports or singing, community service, spending time with friends,” he said.
Lester said for his Yale essay he wrote about his parents coming together and giving him his “duel heritage,” which includes being Cherokee.
“Basically my dad, he’s from down South. He’s from Arkansas and that’s where I get my Cherokee in me. My mom was from up North, and they met in a dance club in New Haven and that kind of characterized my life,” he said. “The title of my paper was ‘Two Worlds Collided’ because the southern world and the Native culture.”
When it comes to his Cherokee heritage, Lester said he focused on what it means to him.
“I talked a lot about how because of this duel heritage, like that Native side plays a role in one half of who I am, like the hunting, the fishing and the outdoorsy-ness and the camping, how I just love the outdoors and how I love natural beauty and all that stuff,” he said. “I think that is how my Native culture and my Native heritage manifests itself in my life.”
While attending Yale, Lester said he plans to become a part of the Native American Cultural Center so he can join a community of people who are also Native.
“It’s like instant friends as soon as you get there, and like you instantly attach on to them because you have that bond of being both Native American. It’s like a different bond then just friendship,” he said.
Lester said because of his efforts at Hopkins, a CN flag now hangs in the school’s athletic center among flags from various countries. The flags represent students who attended the school. He said it is the only tribal flag displayed.
After all his hard work Lester said he is excited for his future at Yale.
“It’s a dream come true because you can do anything you want there. It’s one of the greatest learning institutions in the world and that just really excites me because like I said I love learning and I’m an intellectual person. I hope to get around and get out and enjoy the community and join organizations, centers and things like that,” he said. “I’m just excited about the whole experience.”
Randy, Lester’s father, said he is “proud” of his son’s determination.
“I’ve seen him sacrifice so many things and weekends for his academics that I wanted him to get in to his first choice. I didn’t care where his first choice was, but it just so happened that his first choice was Yale,” he said. “I was happy about that because it’s not far from home. I can get to him if I need to. But I just wanted it for him because that’s what he wanted, and I felt like after seeing him sacrifice for so long for him to get it was just a tremendous, tremendous thing for our family.”
As for Ethan’s plans after Yale, he said he hopes to eventually attend medical school.
“With future plans, I’m planning on going into the sciences, probably chemistry or physics. I plan to go on the pre-med track as well. I plan on going to a medical school afterwards for another 12 years or so,” he said.
BROKEN ARROW, Okla. – On Feb. 6, those who want to create their own painting, while helping Northeastern State University’s 44th annual Symposium on the American Indian, can do so at Pinot’s Palette in Broken Arrow.
The fundraising event costs $40 and begins at 2 p.m. It will take place at 212 S. Main St.
Those in attendance will paint a piece titled “Oklahoma Breeze.” The painted piece features a rolling, grassy plain with a dandelion, an outline of Oklahoma and a heart inside of Oklahoma.
According to pinotspalette.com, the business is donating $15 of every ticket sold for the event to NSU’s annual symposium.
The symposium is set to take place April 11-16 at NSU’s Tahlequah campus with the theme being Indigenous Movement: Empowering Generations for Progressive Revitalization.
Tickets for the Pinot’s Palette fundraising event can be bought at <a href="http://www.pinotspalette.com/brokenarrow/class/80148" target="_blank">www.pinotspalette.com/brokenarrow/class/80148</a>.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Jan. 14, Grand View School held its first Parent University to inform parents and students about college and vocational opportunities, as well as grants and scholarships.
The school’s federal grants director, Margaret Carlile, said the focus was to get students thinking about higher education. She said officials from the Cherokee Nation’s College Resource Center and Career Services spoke about scholarship opportunities and available programs.
She said workers also helped parents and students apply for Oklahoma’s Promise Scholarship, which students must enroll for while in the eighth, ninth or 10th grade. The student’s family income must also not exceed $50,000 per year to be eligible for the scholarship.
“It’s an amazing program. It’s not just for colleges. They can use it at vocational programs, also,” she said.
Carlile said a grant from the U.S. Education and Interior departments funds the Parent University.
“Tonight is our first Parent University for our National Youth Community Project Grant. We were one of 12 groups in the nation, and the only public school, stand-alone public school, who received one of these four-year grants,” she said.
According to a 2015 Cherokee Phoenix article, the school received approximately $341,000 for the first year with the possibility of being funded up to four years, depending on congressional approval.
Carlile said with the grant school officials want to get students interested in opportunities after they complete their high school.
“Our focus is college and career, so we’re going to be supporting students in examining careers, preparing themselves for college, and we’re doing leadership activities,” she said. “We’ve partnered with the Cherokee Nation Foundation and Northeastern (State University) and some other groups in the area to provide mentoring and (to) visit campuses.”
Carlile said she even hopes to take students to the Oklahoma State University-Institute of Technology in Okmulgee.
“I want the kids to not only think about college because you know the answer, ‘well, I want to be a doctor,’ but I want them to understand that there’s great jobs from a technical institute, also,” she said.
She said getting students on local campuses helps them feel familiar with the surroundings if they plan to attend one of the universities or institutions.
“I want them to learn that it’s not scary up there,” she said. “I want you to be able to go on that campus and say, ‘oh, I’ve been in there before.’”
Carlile said she and her colleagues try to make differences in their students’ lives.
“Sometimes you don’t know for a long time that you made a difference, but sometimes they come back and check in and say ‘I’m in school. I wanted to let you know that it made a difference,’” she said.
Carlile said school officials plan to continue the Parent University as a monthly event.
“The emphasis will be different, but tentatively we’re planning a resource fair of some sort in February. March will be a literacy event, and in April we’re going to have a family STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) night. We’ll have hands-on science activities that the children and their families will do and, we’ll just kind of be there to facilitate it,” she said.
Tahlequah resident Melissa Wofford said she attended the first Parent University to learn more about it. Her son, Caleb, attends the school and is in the fourth grade.
“I was kind of hoping to see what it was about and see what was going on up here at the school and see what opportunities they had because I heard they had gotten a grant, but I didn’t really know what it was about,” she said.
Wofford said she’s glad to see Grand View offering such opportunities.
“Grand View’s an awesome school, and they give a lot of really cool opportunities,” she said. “We’ve really, really enjoyed having our kids here.”
Carlile said in the future school officials hope to get more families coming to Parent University events.
“This is just our first step. We’re going to get better at it. Most people don’t know what we’re doing yet. It’s taken a little while to disseminate the information and the opportunities,” she said. “We have high expectations and high hopes for what we’ll be able to accomplish.”
Carlile said if anyone is interested in talking to students about careers or giving students tours of their workplaces to call at 918-456-5131.