http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgCherokee Nation citizen Sharon Kyles of Locust Grove, Okla., completes a change-of-address form on June 22 after casting a challenged ballot in the Dist. 15 Tribal Council race. Precinct workers in the Locust Grove Town Hall said she was supposed to vote in the Dist. 9 race despite Kyles receiving a letter from the tribe’s Election Commission stating she was in Dist. 15. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen Sharon Kyles of Locust Grove, Okla., completes a change-of-address form on June 22 after casting a challenged ballot in the Dist. 15 Tribal Council race. Precinct workers in the Locust Grove Town Hall said she was supposed to vote in the Dist. 9 race despite Kyles receiving a letter from the tribe’s Election Commission stating she was in Dist. 15. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

6 incumbents to remain on Tribal Council

Cherokee Nation citizen Jimmy Leeds of Tahlequah, Okla., signs in on June 22 to vote in the Tribal Council election at the Dist. 2 precinct in the W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX A Cherokee Nation citizen on June 22 places her ballot into a ballot machine at the District 2 precinct located in the W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah, Okla. Candidates Tamsye Dreadfulwater and Joe Byrd were vying for the seat. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX Lorraine A. Gifford of Rocky Ford, Okla., places her ballot for the Dist. 2 Tribal Council race in a ballot machine located at the precinct inside Lowery Public School. The Cherokee Nation’s election was held on June 22 and Dist. 2 pitted Tamsye Dreadfulwater against incumbent Joe Byrd. STACIE GUTHRIE/CHEROKEE PHOENIX Cherokee Nation citizen Jeanette Riley of Locust Grove, Okla., votes in a Tribal Council election on June 22 at the precinct located in the Locust Grove Town Hall. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX Cherokee Nation citizen Linda Keener of Rose, Okla., votes in the Tribal Council elections on June 22 at the precinct located in the tribe’s AMO Clinic in Salina. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen Jimmy Leeds of Tahlequah, Okla., signs in on June 22 to vote in the Tribal Council election at the Dist. 2 precinct in the W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY STAFF REPORTS
06/23/2013 04:42 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to unofficial results from the Cherokee Nation’s June 22 election, six current Tribal Councilors will remain on the legislative body when the new 15-district representative map replaces the five-district map on Aug. 14. In two other district races, one incumbent faces a runoff while another incumbent lost.

Incumbent Joe Byrd of Tahlequah will serve as councilor for the new Dist. 2. Unofficial results showed Byrd receiving 67.97 percent of the votes, or 416 ballots, while Tamsye Dreadfulwater of Tahlequah received 32.03 percent or 196 votes.

“Now it’s time to go to work,” Byrd said. “And all the people that helped, the volunteers, the people that let me put signs in their yard, it was really a team effort and there were a lot of people involved with my reelection and I just want to thank all of the people that supported me.”

Byrd previously served on the Tribal Council from 1987-95 and since 2012. He also served as principal chief from 1995-99.

“One of my main initiatives in this go-around is going to be making sure that any of the elderly that want a storm shelter, I want to make sure they have one available to them because of the uncertainty of what our weather patterns have been,” he said. “Everybody talks about health care and scholarships, and that’s OK and I still support that, but I’m really going to concentrate on our elders this go-around.”

In the Dist. 4 race, incumbent Don Garvin of Muskogee will face challenger Mike Dobbins of Fort Gibson in a runoff election on July 27 because Garvin did not receive more than 50 percent of the vote.

Garvin received 304 votes, or 43.8 percent, while Dobbins received 240 votes or 34.58 percent. Candidate Justin Carlton of Muskogee received 150 votes or 21.61 percent.

Attempts to reach Garvin for a comment were unsuccessful.

Dobbins said he was “happy” to be in the runoff and he has a lot of work in front of him. He added that the biggest concern for Dist. 4 constituents is health care.

“With sequester cuts, I’m trying to reassure the Cherokee people that we will everything we can to keep health services intact,” he said.

Incumbent David Thornton of Vian will serve as Tribal Councilor for the new Dist. 5 when he’s inaugurated. Results showed that Thornton received 56.75 percent of the votes, or 311 votes, while his opponents Dink Scott of Vian received 35.22 percent or 193 votes. Candidate Sherri Doolin of Braggs received 44 votes for 8.03 percent.

Thornton was first elected to the council in 2003. The Phoenix attempted to reach him but was unsuccessful.

In the Dist. 7 race, incumbent Frankie Hargis of Stilwell received 547 votes, or 55.09 percent, to defeat Joe Adair of Stilwell who received 446 votes or 44.91 percent.

Hargis first won a seat on the council in December 2011 during a special election to fill a seat vacated by now Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden. She also defeated Adair in that race.

Hargis credited her friends and family for working “tirelessly” with her to win the race. She said she appreciated those who voted for her and gave her their support.

Hargis said she’s heard from Cherokee people that they need help with application processes to receive tribal services such as housing, health care and education.

“We’ve made progress with all of that, and I’m so happy that I get to continue to help moving us forward to even better opportunities for our people,” she said.

In Dist. 9, unofficial results show that incumbent Curtis G. Snell of Rose won by 57.49 percent, or 407 votes, to defeat Lonus Mitchell of Rose who got 301 votes for 42.51 percent. Attempts to reach Snell were unsuccessful.

In Dist. 10, Harley Buzzard of Eucha received 66.82 percent of the vote for getting 290 ballots, while his opponent Nettie Detherage of Fairland received 33.18 percent or 144 votes.

Buzzard was not available for comment when election results were posted.

Tribal Councilor Chuck Hoskin Jr., drew no opponent for the new Dist. 11, so he will be inaugurated on Aug. 14 as that district’s council representative.

Three candidates campaigned for the Dist. 15 seat and unofficial results show that Janees Taylor of Pryor won with 50.7 percent or 289 votes. Incumbent Meredith Frailey of Locust Grove had 45.96 percent of the vote or 262 votes, and candidate Marilyn Cooper of Locust Grove got 19 votes for 3.33 percent.
Attempts to reach Taylor were unsuccessful.

The council’s At-Large Seat No. 2 had six candidates vying for it. Unofficial results show incumbent Jack Baker of Nichols Hills winning with 739 votes for 51.64 percent.

Candidates Curtis Bruehl of Norman received 30.4 percent from 435 votes. Ken Luttrell of Ponca City got 5.87 percent from 84 votes, while Robin Mayes of Denton, Texas, received 5.24 percent from 75 votes. Curtis West of Klamath Falls, Ore., received 3.63 percent of the vote, 52 votes overall, while Carol Richmond of Tulsa received 46 votes for 3.21 percent.

Although the results were unofficial, Baker said he feels he “fought a clean fight and did not run down any other candidate.”

“Even with all the money that was spent trying to take me out, I think the Cherokee people were able to see through that and still re-elect me,” he said.

The Election Commission is expected to certify the results within three days. – Senior Reporter Will Chavez and Reporters Jami Custer, Tesina Jackson and Stacie Guthrie contributed to this report.


News

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
02/21/2018 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH – This year marks the 190th anniversary of when the Cherokee Phoenix was first published on Feb. 21, 1828, in New Echota, Georgia, a former Cherokee Nation capital. It was the first bilingual newspaper in North America, printed in Cherokee, using Sequoyah’s syllabary, and English. Since 1828, the Phoenix has only been printed a total of 25 years – from 1828 to 1834 in the old CN and from October 2000 to present day. The Cherokee Advocate newspaper followed the Phoenix and was printed from September 1844 until March 1906 and then from January 1977 until September 2000. “As a tribal citizen I’m thankful that the Cherokee Nation has always been a leader when it comes to documenting and telling its own story. There isn’t anything more important than having Native voices to represent our communities and people and to tell the stories about tribal issues, said CN citizen Jennifer Bell, editor of the Hownikan, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s newspaper. “As a Cherokee, I’m proud to have the Cherokee Phoenix as an example of how this has been done for 190 years.” Its creation in 1825 by the Cherokee National Council was part of an assimilation process by Cherokee leadership. Officials thought if they lived like their white neighbors – building schools, opening businesses and government offices and having a newspaper – that perhaps Georgians would accept them and let them stay on their lands. The newspaper’s first editor, Elias Boudinot, learned about the Phoenix bird of Egyptian mythology, which consumes itself in fire every 500 years and is reborn from the ashes, at school in Cornwall, Connecticut. Boudinot was part of a prominent Cherokee family, the brother of Stand Watie, nephew of Major Ridge and cousin of John Ridge. Boudinot, the Ridges, Principal Chief John Ross, Charles R. Hicks, and his son, Elijah Hicks, formed the CN’s ruling elite that believed acculturation into white society was critical to Cherokee survival. Boudinot, Stand Watie, John Ridge and Elijah Hicks, raised money to start the newspaper, and Boudinot went on a fundraising tour in Philadelphia and New York to find financing for it. He also used the tour to inform people of the Cherokee’s progress and acculturation. Along with gaining support from Americans, he raised enough money to purchase a printing press, which was set up in the tribe’s new capital in New Echota. Boudinot and Chief Ross used the Phoenix to write against the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the growing encroachment and harassment of Georgia settlers. It also contained news, features, accounts about Cherokees living in Arkansas and other area tribes, as well as social and religious activities. Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions (Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia), which affected Cherokee rights, were also written about extensively. As pressure for the Cherokee to leave Georgia increased, Boudinot changed his mind and began advocating for the Cherokee’s removal west. At first Chief Ross did not suppress Boudinot’s opposing view, but in early 1832 the two’s differences caused Boudinot to resign as editor. Elijah Hicks, a brother-in-law of Chief Ross, was appointed editor in August 1832, but the Phoenix was silenced on May 31, 1834, when the government ran out of money for it. After the Cherokee’s removal to Indian Territory, Cherokee leaders reorganized the government after three major factions reunited in 1839. It was Chief Ross who envisioned reviving a Cherokee newspaper. In October 1843, when the Cherokee National Council met for its regular session, he made the proposal for funding a newspaper. Legislators approved the act establishing the Advocate on Oct. 25, 1843, “to inform and encourage the Cherokees in agriculture, education and religion and to enlighten the world with correct Indian news.” On Sept. 26, 1844, the Advocate’s first issue was printed, in Cherokee and English, in the Supreme Court building (still located south of the Cherokee Capitol Building in Tahlequah) under the guidance of William Potter Ross, a Princeton graduate. Production of the Advocate stopped and started between 1853 and 1906. The paper ceased printing in March 1906 when the CN was dissolved by the U.S. government in preparation for Oklahoma statehood. Today’s Phoenix is one of only a handful of tribal newspapers in the United States that is a free press newspaper, which was made possible by the Cherokee Independent Press Act of 2000. The act protects the newspaper from undue influence from the tribe’s government. Along with a monthly newspaper, the Phoenix has a website and uses social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as a daily email newsletter. “Aside from its historical importance as being the first Native American newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix played a crucial role in distributing information to Cherokee citizens during troublesome times while we were in the east and facing removal,” CN History and Preservation Officer Catherine Foreman Gray said. “Today, the Phoenix continues to operate as a free press that informs and educates Cherokee citizens on local, state and national issues that impact our tribe and Indian Country.”
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
02/20/2018 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH (AP) – Bassmaster has officially announced the 2018 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops will take place in Tahlequah. Tour Tahlequah, more formally known as the Tahlequah Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, is the local sponsor and will partner with Northeastern State University, the Cherokee Nation and local businesses to bring the college fishing tournament July 19-21 to Lake Tenkiller and the city. “What an honor it is to have the city of Tahlequah chosen for the 2018 Bassmaster Collegiate Fishing Tournament,” said Aubrey Valdez, Tour Tahlequah assistant director. “We are gearing up for this event and are excited to show our Oklahoma hospitality to fishermen and spectators. We already have an enormous amount of support from Northeastern State University, Cherokee Nation, city officials and many others, and know July will be here in a flash. We hope to make this a memorable occasion for everyone involved.” Presented by Bass Pro Shops, the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship provides the opportunity for college anglers from across the country to compete at a national level. Anglers participating in the championship tournament must first qualify by competing in qualifying tournaments during the 2017-2018 season. At the national championship, one college angler will earn a berth in the biggest tournament in bass fishing: the Bassmaster Classic. “Competing in a national championship tournament is the ultimate goal,” said Tyler Winn, Tahlequah sophomore and NSU fishing team member. “To think this tournament will be here in Tahlequah is unreal. Anglers from all over the country will fish on the lake I’ve grown up on.” The Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship is a weeklong event. Anglers arrive on Sunday of tournament week, practicing the mornings of Monday through Wednesday, and competing Thursday through Saturday. While the anglers are on the water, tournament sponsors and staff collaborate to present a series of events for the anglers, fans and community. Event attendance averages 1,000 to 1,500 spectators each day with weigh-in attendance reaching more than 3,000. Weigh-ins are broadcasted live on Bassmaster.com each day. The tournament week is captured and aired at a later date on ESPNU. Tahlequah offers visitors the opportunity to engage in outdoor recreational activities while also being able to learn about Cherokee culture and shop and dine at locally owned businesses. Jon James, NSU alumnus, is the field promotions manager for Dynamic Sponsorships. He played a key role in making Tahlequah a location to be considered for the national tournament. During James’ time as a student, the staff at NSU instilled confidence in him and pushed him to succeed. “NSU played a vital role in helping me grow as a person and bringing the tournament to Tahlequah is a way to say thank you,” said James. “Tahlequah is a wonderful tourist destination and has beautiful fishery in Lake Tenkiller. This is a great place to take a family, and there aren’t many places that have a small town feel but still have the accommodations and resources to support an event like this.” During the tournament, anglers will fish on Lake Tenkiller. However, the key events of the week will primarily take place at NSU. Events including the angler kick-off banquet, angler speaker seminar, sponsor outdoor expo and weigh-ins will occur on the university campus with Seminary Hall as an iconic backdrop. NSU will also be home to the estimated 90 teams of college anglers during their time in Tahlequah. For more information, call 918-456-3742.
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Multimedia Producer – @cp_rgraham
02/20/2018 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation citizens and members of the Tahlequah Chapter of the Blue Star Mothers on Feb. 8 dedicated a memorial stone honoring military veterans at the Cherokee Warrior Memorial adjacent to the Tribal Complex. The stone reads: “Honoring our Military Sons and Daughters, Blue Star Mother’s OK21, Tahlequah, OK.” BSMOK21 President Billie Walker and Founder Melody Parker dedicated the stone before a small group consisting of Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Deputy Chief and U.S. Navy veteran S. Joe Crittenden, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr., Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd and CN Veterans Center Director Barbara Foreman. “It took a year to make this memorial a reality,” Walker said. “There are sons and daughters deployed now. This stone will be here long after they get home.” The stone was Parker’s idea. “Each month our chapter sends boxes of items to our soldiers. Items like gloves, socks, anything we can afford that make their time away easier. It let’s them know we’re thinking of them. One hundred percent of the Blue Star Mother’s funding comes from donations.” Crittenden said he was thrilled to see the addition to the Cherokee Warriors Memorial and is grateful from where it came. “I served in the Navy in the 1960s. It meant the world to us when we received items from home. What the Blue Star Mothers did today and every day is important because the soldiers they help are out there for us. They deserve to know they aren’t forgotten,” he said. For information on the Blue Star Mothers in Tahlequah, visit their Facebook page.
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Reporter – @cp_bbennett
02/19/2018 04:00 PM
GLENPOOL – Native artists from Oklahoma and out-of-state tribes gathered to show their works and educate the public about their crafts Feb. 9-11 at the 31st Greater Tulsa Indian Art Festival. The festival, the largest inter-tribal fine art show in the Tulsa area, also ranks among the best fine art shows for genuine Native art in the country. Chairman Robert Trepp said the event began in 1987 and was inspired by the cast of the 1984 American Indian Theater Company production “Black Elk Speaks.” “It was really inspired by a lot of the cast from ‘Black Elk Speaks’ that was put on here in Tulsa, and it’s just grown through the years,” Trepp said. “It’s nationally known. It’s got a big emphasis on Eastern Woodlands cultures, which most shows do not have.” Volunteers largely run the festival as it draws various artists including painters, potters and jewelers. “We have artists from all over the country,” Trepp said. “I think for local artists it’s an opportunity for them especially to see each other again and to have that fellowship to share ideas, compare notes as to what they’ve been up to. And for our people out of state, it’s an opportunity for them to come and meet with our local artists.” Trepp said the festival especially emphasizes citizens of local tribes, including Cherokees. “The Cherokee are one of the largest tribes in the country, and they sit right here. Their territory wraps all the way around the Tulsa metropolitan area,” he said. “They have a huge influence on Native people and relationships with Native people here in Tulsa.” The GTIAF 2018 Featured Artist was Jane Osti, a Cherokee National Treasure whose pottery piece “Woodland Song” was chosen for this year’s festival poster. “This is one of the first shows that I did when I started doing art and selling art,” Osti said. “This is a good nurturing ground and you don’t get too big for it either. You can still do the show even though it might have been one of your starting shows.” Osti said she’s been doing pottery for more than 30 years and makes her Woodland pieces “the traditional way.” “I make pottery the old way, the traditional way of hand coiling and they are usually kiln-fired first and then wood-fired,” she said. “The designs and the shapes, a lot of them are from our very old pottery, but sort of moved around in a contemporary way. My teacher was Anna Mitchell, master Cherokee potter and that was the way she did pottery. Just about any Cherokee making pottery has either learned from Anna, or learned from one of us that has learned from her…” Osti said most people only recognize Southwest pottery, but that she’s seeing a shift. “A few people are noticing the Woodland Pottery and the Woodland works in general,” she said. “I make pottery and teach it. It’s the way I make a living, but it’s also to ensure that we keep doing our traditional work and passing it on, educating the general public and our customers about our Woodland pottery.” Cherokee Nation citizen Ryan Lee Smith conducted painting demonstrations to give the public a peek into his creative process. “It’s hard for me to engage, and that’s what I want to do. I want to show it to people. That’s the reason I do it,” he said. “It gives them insight to the process I’m going through. It might make no sense to them on site, but it allows me to relax and get in my comfort zone.” Smith said much of his work is influenced by nature, as well as from stories his grandmother passed down to him. “My grandmother taught me little things like what bird makes this sound and how to grow tomatoes and all these core things that I didn’t know were important until I got older,” he said. “These birds and all these animals, all these things, they were like characters in a story to me, all of them throughout growing up. They seem to be the most honest depiction of things.” He describes his work as “simple” and “a little tongue-in-cheek,” but hopes that it’s humorous to the public and inspires a “good” feeling. Smith said he doesn’t worry about rules when it comes to medium or his vibrant color choices. “As far as the rules, the technical training that I’ve had in grad school and undergrad where they tell you what paint to use on what surface and what type of brush and all that, I feel like it’s almost like they taught me what not to do,” he said. “It just is a little more liberating to break tradition. The things just sort of find their place, and I’m just kind of like a landlord. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t do this.”
BY LINDSEY BARK
Reporter
02/19/2018 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation’s judicial branch has moved from its downtown location inside the CN Capitol Building to space in the recently built second story of the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex. The Capitol Building was built after the Civil War, completed in 1869 and occupies the center of Tahlequah’s town square. In 1991, the Tribal Council re-established the District Court to utilize the Capitol Building to hear civil, juvenile and adoption cases. After 27 years and several attempts at a new facility, the CN court system has moved to a new and more modern location. “We’ve been in the Capitol Building since 1991, whenever the council passed legislation allowing us to continue doing our District Court. We started out there and we pretty much outgrew this building as our caseload started growing,” Court Administrator Lisa Fields said. The new location encompasses 15,385 square feet of more space and “state-of-the-art” equipment. “It’s beautiful. It’s state of the art and it’s a really nice courtroom. It’s going to be large enough to hold our court customers or people that come to court,” Fields said. The new location contains large and small courtrooms, offices for attorneys to meet with clients, new offices for all court staff members, District and Supreme Court filings counters and a separate location from the general public to allow CN marshals to bring in prisoners to have their cases heard. District Court judges and Supreme Court justices will also have their own chambers, which was not available at the Capitol Building. Fields said everyone in the court system, including justices and other judiciary officials, were in agreement with the move. “To say the least that we, meaning the justices and the district judges, are very excited and looking forward to the new courtroom. The facilities are very nice. I think it’s just a great move for the court system,” Supreme Court Chief Justice John C. Garret said. Fields said the court system had a target date of Feb. 26 to begin filings at the new location with the first court docket scheduled for March 2. The last docket in the previous location was Feb. 16. Cherokee Nation Businesses officials said they plan to restore and refurbish the Capitol Building for future use as a museum for the public. “We’re moving into the modern era I guess you could say. We’ve been in this old building, which we absolutely love, but we want to see it go back to its original state and for the public to enjoy it,” Fields said.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
02/19/2018 08:30 AM
TAHELQUAH (AP) — Thirteen years ago, in an unguarded moment on her first day of kindergarten, Emilee Chavez spoke a single word of English. And a classmate immediately ran to tell the teacher. “Hey,” the teacher raised her voice harshly, “you can’t use English here. Speak Cherokee, or don’t say anything at all.” Chavez’s parents would have gotten in trouble if a teacher had caught them speaking a word of Cherokee, which is one reason the language began plummeting toward extinction. Schools banned it, so nearly an entire generation stopped speaking it. For Chavez and her classmates, however, the Cherokee Immersion Charter School turned the tables. They were punished for speaking English. Launched in 2001 on the grounds of the tribal headquarters, the school started with 23 students. But Cherokee is a hard language. Only nine made it all the way through the program. “I didn’t say much for the first few weeks,” remembers Chavez, now a high school senior. “But when you’re around the language eight hours a day, every day, you can’t help picking it up. After a while, it’s just natural.” Now the first batch of Cherokee immersion students is about to graduate from high school, a milestone in a grand experiment that is trying to revive the Cherokee language before it is too late. They haven’t actually been immersed in the language since the seventh grade, when Chavez and her classmates began studying at the Cherokee Nation’s Sequoyah Schools, where all classes are taught in English. The question then was how far behind would they be compared to their non-immersion classmates, who had gone to English-speaking grade schools. “We were behind,” Chavez said, especially in reading and writing. “But not for long.” Now the former immersion school students are all near the top of their graduating class at Sequoyah, officials say. With their graduation upcoming, however, the program will face an even more critical test. Will they retain the language into adulthood? And will they pass it on to the next generation? Or will the tribe’s ancient language continue to fade? “We’re not just going to walk away from it and forget it,” says Lauren Hummingbird, one of six immersion-school students who will earn their diplomas from Sequoyah this semester. “We’ve worked too hard and we care too much to let that happen.” Growing up around her grandparents, who are fluent speakers, Hummingbird’s first words were in Cherokee, not English, making her the closest thing her generation has to a “native speaker.” Close listeners can even detect a mild Cherokee accent when she speaks English. But with most other speakers being her grandparents’ age, 17-year-old Hummingbird has to go looking for opportunities to practice her language skills. Even her old immersion-school classmates tend to speak English to each other when they cross paths in the Sequoyah hallways, although Cherokee can serve as a useful code language when they don’t want other teens to know what they are saying. “Even then,” Hummingbird says, “it’s usually a mix of Cherokee and English. When I really want to speak Cherokee, I go see my grandparents.” After graduation this spring, she will spend a year working with the tribe’s Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program, a sort of immersion class for adults, where Hummingbird will be both a student and a facilitator. Then she plans to study linguistics in college before returning to Tahlequah to do exactly what tribal officials always hoped some of the immersion students would do when they grew up. “I see myself coming back here and working with immersion to teach the language,” she says. “I honestly can’t see my future going any other way.” Native speakers, however, continue to die off faster than immersion programs can replace them, with only 133 students enrolled in the entire grade school this semester, tribal officials say. For the foreseeable future, the Cherokee language will continue to decline. “We’re not doing enough,” says Chuck Hoskin Jr., the tribe’s secretary of state. “But we’re taking steps in the right direction.” When the tribe started the immersion school in the early 2000s, it also conducted an extensive survey to gauge how endangered the language really was. And the results were shocking: Only 10,000 fluent speakers remained alive, almost all of them past middle age. Officials at the time estimated that without drastic efforts to reverse the language’s decline, Cherokee would be dead “within 30 or 40 years.” Roughly half that time has now gone by, but not without the tribe’s making progress, Hoskin says. Before the immersion school and the more recent adult apprentice program, native speakers weren’t being replaced at all as they died off. At least now, a new generation is learning to speak Cherokee. “They amount to only a handful. We know that,” Hoskin says. “But you can see the dedication, the commitment. And that’s why I’m optimistic about the future of the language, because I can see how important it is to these young people.”