“My first language was the Cherokee language. That was all that was taught in the home. I was about 6 years old when I first starting learning the English language and it was very hard.”
She was 8 years old when her uncle began teaching her, her siblings and cousins how to use the Cherokee syllabary chart.
“After a stickball game at the (stomp) grounds, he would take the young kids and he would sit down and teach the syllabary charts,” she said. “He did that for maybe two years and then he passed away.”
After his death, everyone “drifted away” from the syllabary because nobody took his place, she said.
Edwards, who was raised in Marble City in Sequoyah County, was reintroduced to the syllabary chart about four years ago, when the CN began sponsoring Cherokee language classes in communities. She attended a class for two years and relearned how to read and write the syllabary.
About three years ago, the place where she had worked for 32 years in Fort Smith, Ark., closed, which led her to the tribe and its translation department.
“I had always wanted to work on something like this (language), and then somebody mentioned they (CN) may have an opening for a translator and so I applied and got it,” she said. “To me, I think everything that we do here in this department is important. You can’t say this is more important than this, and that’s also dealing with the public…if you can help them it makes you feel good that you were able to help somebody.”
Edwards said she didn’t teach her children how to speak Cherokee because of the difficulties she had while attending public school.
“The reason I really did not really push our language in my home was I had such a problem when I started when I was 6 years old. It was like going to a different world trying to understand the English language,” she said. “You were not allowed to talk Cherokee, and there was not anyone available at that time like a bilingual speaker to translate what was being said to us.
“I did not want to put my kids in that situation, so therefore I let them learn the English language so it would be easier on them because you don’t how it is to feel like that where you are thrown into a situation where you don’t understand what’s going or what’s expected of you,” she added.
Edwards said the trauma of being forced to learn English has stayed with her, but she regrets not teaching her two children to speak Cherokee.
“They understand (Cherokee) to a certain extent, but they do not speak the language,” she said. “My children are saying ‘why didn’t you just go ahead and teach us.’”
The result of her children’s generation not learning to speak Cherokee is a language gap between her generation and the generation of children attending the Cherokee Language Immersion School.
The future of the language may rest in the hands of the 100 or so students at the immersion school, and Edwards said she is happy to support the school and enjoys visiting the students.
“I just love to hear them talk. They’ll come running to you saying ‘osiyo, osiyo’ (hello). It’s so good to hear that.”
She said it’s not important that the children always speak proper Cherokee as long as the elder speakers can understand them and there is communication occurring.
“In each community the language is spoken differently, and there’s dialects, and I think it can be wrong. I mean, so long as two people can communicate with each other and understand what is being said, I think that’s fine,” she said.
She also understands that even with the efforts being made to save the language, it’s not safe from disappearing. But she’s hopeful the technology such as iPhones and iPads that translators and immersion students use will help save it.
“There are also translated books that young children or anybody can use as a reference and then we have the (language) CDs,” she said.
Edwards added that thanks in part to the translation staff, there is more Cherokee syllabary material available for people who want to study the language and learn to read and write it.
ᏓᎵᏆ, ᎣᎦᎵᎰᎹ.-- ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᏗᏁᎶᏗᏍᎩ ᎠᎦᏔᎯ Phyllis Edwards ᎢᎬᏱ ᏚᏕᎶᏆᎥ ᎾᎿ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏗᎪᏪᎶᏙᏗ ᎾᎿ ᎤᏚᏥ Ben Bush ᏚᏪᏲᏁ ᎤᏍᏗ ᎠᎨᏳᏣ ᏥᎨᏒᎢ.
“ᎢᎬᏱ ᎠᎩᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎨᏒᎢ. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎤᏩᏌ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᏅᎿ ᏚᏁᏅᏒᎢ. ᏑᏓᎵ ᏯᏆᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎨᏒ ᎠᏆᎴᏅᎲ ᎦᏕᎶᏆᏍᎬ ᏲᏁᎦ ᎠᎴ ᎢᎦ ᏍᏓᏯ ᎨᏒ.”
ᏧᏁᎳ ᎢᏳᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎨᏒ ᎾᎿ ᎤᏚᏣ ᎤᎴᏅᎭ ᏕᎨᏲᎲᏍᎬᎢ, ᏧᏙ, ᎠᎾᏓᎸᎢᏴ ᎠᎴ ᎪᎱᏍᏗ ᏧᏩᏂ ᎤᏅᏙᏗ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏗᎪᏪᎶᏙᏗ ᏗᎪᏪᎵ.
“ᎤᎾᎳᏍᎦᎸᎰᏅ ᎠᎾᎵᏍᏓᏴᎲᏍᎪ ᎾᎿ ᎤᎾᎵᏍᎩᏍᏗᎢ, ᏓᏘᏁᎬ ᏧᎾᏍᏗ ᏗᏂᏲᏟ ᎠᎴ ᎠᎾᏅᏍᎪ ᎠᎴᏂᏍᎩ ᏕᎨᏲᎲᏍᎪ ᏗᎪᎵᏰᏙᏗ ᏗᎪᏪᎳ ᏣᎳᎩᎭᎢ,” ᎤᏛᏅᎢ. “ᎾᏍᎩ ᎾᏛᏁᎲ ᎠᏎ ᏔᎵᎭ ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏲᎱᏒᎢ.”
ᎤᏲᎱᏌᏃ, ᏂᎦᏓ “ᎣᎦᏗᎦᎴᏲᏨ” ᎾᏍᎩ ᎣᎦᏕᎶᏆᎥ Ꮭ ᎩᎶ ᏳᏭᎴᏅᎮ ᏙᎨᏲᎲᏍᎬᎢ, ᎤᏛᏅ.
Edwards, ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᏛᏒ ᏗᎦᏓᏲᏍᏗ ᏏᏉᏲ ᏍᎦᏚᎩ, ᎤᎴᏅᎯᏌᏅ ᎾᎿ ᏗᎪᎵᏰᏙᏗ ᏗᎪᏪᎳ ᏓᏕᎶᏆᏍᎬᎢ ᏅᎩ ᎾᏕᏘᏯ ᏥᎨᏒᎢ, ᎾᏍᎩ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᏧᎾᎴᏅᎲ ᏗᏍᎦᏚᎩ ᏚᏙᏢᏒ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏓᏁᏲᎲᏍᎬ ᏓᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎬᎢ. ᏚᏕᎶᏆᎥ ᏔᎵ ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏕᎶᏆᎢᏌᏅ ᎤᎪᎵᏰᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏬᏪᎶᏗ ᎾᎿ ᏣᎳᎩᎭᎢ.
ᏦᎢ ᎾᏕᏘᏯ ᏈᎨᏒ, ᎾᏍᎩ ᏚᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎳ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏦᏍᎪ ᏔᎵ ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎾᎿ Fort Smith, Ark., ᎤᎵᏍᏚᎾ ᎢᎪᎯᏓ ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎤᎷᏨ ᎾᎿ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎠᎾᏁᎸᏗᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᏓᏡᎬᎢ.
“ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᎠᏆᏚᎵᏍᎩ ᏗᎩᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᏗ ᎾᏍᎩ (ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ) ᎤᎬᏩᏟ ᎠᎴ ᎩᎶ ᎠᎩᏃᎯᏎᎸ ᎾᎿ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎡᎵᏊ ᏳᏠᏅᏓ ᏗᎦᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᏗ ᎾᎿ ᏗᏁᎶᏗᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᏓᏡᎬ ᎠᎴ ᏩᎩᏢᏅ ᎪᏪᎵ ᎠᎴ ᎥᎩᎾᏢᏅᎢ,” ᎤᏛᏅ. “ᎠᏯᏃ ᎨᏒ, ᎨᎵᏍᎪ ᏂᎦᏓ ᎠᎭᏂ ᏥᏃᏣᏛᏁᎭ ᎤᎵᏍᎨᏗ. ᏝᏃ ᎯᎠ ᎤᎪᏓ ᎤᎵᏍᎬᏗᏯ ᎾᏃ ᏐᎢ ᎨᏒᎢ, ᎠᎴ ᏭᏂᎪᏛ ᏙᏯᏗᏜ ᎠᏁᎭ ᎠᏂᏴᏫ ᏂᏙᏣᏛᏁᎭᎢ……… ᎢᏳᏃ ᏱᏓᏍᏕᎸᎭ ᎣᏍᏓ ᎠᏓᏅᏓᏍᏗ ᎨᏐ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎩᎶ ᎯᏍᏕᎸᎲᎭ.”
Edwards ᎤᏛᏅ ᎾᏍᎩ Ꮭ ᏱᏚᏪᏲᏁ ᏗᏂᏲᏟ ᏚᏪᎧᎲ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎤᏂᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗᎢ ᏅᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᏂᎦᎥ ᎤᏦᏎᏗ ᎤᎶᏒ ᏲᏁᎦ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎤᎴᏅ ᏓᏕᎶᏆᏍᎬᎢ.
“ᏂᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗᏍᎬ ᏙᎯᏳ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏂᏗᎨᏲᏅᎾ ᎨᏒ ᏗᏂᏲᏟ ᎠᏇᏅᏒ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏂᎦᎥ ᎤᏦᏎᏗ ᎠᎩᎶᏒ ᏣᏩᎴᏅᎲ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᏑᏓᎵ ᏯᏆᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᏥᎨᏒᎢ. ᎾᏍᎩᏯᏊ ᎨᏒ ᎤᏣᏘᎾ ᎡᎶᎯ ᏱᏩᎩᎷᏣ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏂᎪᎵᎬᎾ ᎨᏒ ᏲᏁᎦ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ,”ᎤᏛᏅᎢ. “ᏝᏃ ᏲᎦᎵᏍᎪᎸᏓᏁᎮ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎣᎩᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗᎢ, ᎠᎴ Ꮭ ᎨᎶ ᏰᏙᎮ ᎪᎵᎦ ᎢᏧᎳ ᏗᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎦᏲᎩᏍᏕᎸᏗ.
“ᏝᏃ ᏯᏆᏚᎵᏍᎩ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᏳᎾᎵᏍᏓᏁᏗ ᏓᎩᎧᎲ ᏗᏂᏲᏟ, ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᎠᏆᎵᏍᎪᎸᏔᏅ ᏲᏁᎦ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎤᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎠᎯᏗᎬ ᎢᏳᎾᎵᏍᏓᏁᏗ Ꮭ ᎠᎩᎶᏒ ᎤᏠᏯ ᏯᏆᏚᎵᏍᎩ ᎤᏂᎶᎯᏍᏗ ᎠᎴ ᏧᎾᏓᏅᏓᏗᏍᏗᏱ ᎾᏃᎵᎬᎾ ᏱᎨᎦᎵᏃᎮᏔᏂ,” ᎤᏛᏅᎢ.
Edwards ᎤᏛᏅ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎾᎬᏁᎸ ᎠᏎ ᎤᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᏲᏁᎦ ᏄᏍᏛ ᎤᏓᏅᏓᏛ Ꮟ ᎤᏕᏯᏙᏗᏍᎪ, ᎠᏎᏃ Ꮭ ᎣᏍᏓ ᏳᏰᎸᏐ ᏂᏚᏪᏲᏅᎾ ᎨᏒ ᎠᏂᏔᎵ ᏗᏂᏲᏟ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎤᏂᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗᎢ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬ. “ᏗᏇᏣ ᏗᏂᏲᏟ ᎠᎾᏗᏍᎬ ᏝᏃ ᏱᏙᏍᎨᏁᏲᏁ.”
ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏄᎵᏍᏔᏅ ᏧᏪᏥ ᏗᏂᏲᏟ ᎤᎾᏕᏅᎢ Ꮭ ᏳᎾᏕᎶᏆᎡ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎤᏂᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗᎢ ᏂᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᎤᏩᏌ ᎤᏕᏅ ᎠᎴ ᏧᏪᏥ ᎤᎾᏕᏅ ᎾᎿ ᎠᏰᏟ ᎨᏒ Ꮭ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᏳᎾᏕᏁ ᎨᎳ Ꮎ ᏣᎳᎩᎭ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᏥᏓᎾᏕᎶᏆᎠ.
ᎤᏩᎪᏗᏗᏒ ᎾᎿ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎨᏒ ᎤᎾᎵᏐᏈᎳ ᎾᎿ ᏍᎪᎯᏧᏈ ᏯᏂ ᏗᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ ᎾᎿ ᏣᎳᎩᎭ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᏥᏓᏁᏕᎶᏆᎠ, ᎠᎴ Edwards ᎤᏛᏅ ᎠᎵᎮᎵᎪ ᏗᎬᏩᏍᏕᎸᏗ ᏥᎩ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎣᏍᏓ ᎨᏐ ᏱᏚᏩᏛᎯᏙᎳ.
“ᎣᏍᏓ ᎨᏐ ᏗᏛᏓᏍᏙᏗ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ. ᏗᎾᏝᎢᏐ ᏳᎦᎷᏥ ᎣᏏᏲ, ᎣᏏᏲ ᎠᎾᏗᏍᎪ. ᎣᏍᏓ ᎨᏐ ᏗᏛᎪᏗᎢ.”
ᎤᏛᏅᏃ Ꮭ Ꮩ ᎤᎵᏍᎨᏓ ᏱᎩ ᏚᏳᎪᏛ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏯᏂᏬᏂ ᎾᏍᎩᏊ ᏧᎾᏔᎾᏯ ᏯᏃᎵᎦ ᏗᎬᏩᎾᏟᏃᎮᏓ ᏱᎦ.
“ᏗᏍᎦᏚᎩ ᏚᏙᏢᏒ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎨᏒ ᏚᏓᎴᎾᎢ, ᎢᎦᏓ ᏄᏓᎴ ᎾᏅᏁᎰ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎡᎵᏊ ᏄᏓᎴ ᎢᎬᏩᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᎥᎧᏁᎬᎢ. ᎠᏂᏔᎵ ᎠᏂᏴᏫ ᎬᏩᎾᏝᏃᎮᏗ ᏱᎦ ᎠᎴ ᏱᏓᎾᏓᏙᎵᏤᎢ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎣᏏ ᎨᎵᏍᎪ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ.
ᏐᎢᏃ ᎪᎵᎬ ᎾᎾᏛᏁᎲ ᎠᎾᎵᏏᏅᏗᏍᎬ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ, ᏏᏊᏃ Ꮭ ᏙᎯᏳ ᎠᏚᏓᎴᏓ ᏱᎩ ᎢᎩᏲᏎᏗ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ. ᎠᏎᏍᎩᏂ ᎠᏬᎯᏳᏐ ᎾᎿ ᎯᎠ ᏃᏊ ᎢᏤ ᎦᎾᏅᎪᎬ ᏯᏛᎾ iPhones ᎠᎴ iPads ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᎾᏁᎶᏗᏍᎩ ᎠᎴ ᏣᎳᎩᎭ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᏗᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᏛᎾᎵᏍᏕᎸᎯ ᎠᎵᏏᏅᏙᏗᎢ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ.
“ᎾᏍᎩᏍᏊ ᏗᏁᎶᏔᏅ ᏗᎪᏪᎵ ᏚᏂᎾ ᎾᎿ ᏗᏂᏲᏟ ᎠᎴ ᎾᏂᎥ ᏗᎬᏩᏂᏙᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎦᏬᏂᏓ ᎾᎿ CD ᏓᏂᏂᏱᏍᎪ ᎠᎴ ᏓᏂᎴᏴᏗᏍᎪ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ.
Edwards ᎤᏛᏅ ᎾᎿ ᎨᎳ ᎾᎿ ᎠᎾᏁᎶᏗᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᏓᏡᎬᎢ, ᎤᎪᏓ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏗᎪᏪᎳᏅ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏗᎪᎵᏰᏙᏗ ᏕᎦᏃ ᎠᏂᏴᏫ ᏗᎬᏩᏂᏙᏗ ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᎤᎾᏚᎵᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎦᏬᏂᏓ ᎠᎴ ᎤᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎤᏂᎪᎵᏰᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏂᎪᎵᏰᏗᎢ.