Monolingual Cherokee speaker Mack Vann, 83, holds the start of a handmade bow on March 14 in the backyard of his Briggs, Okla., home. Vann is part of a dwindling population of Native Americans in Oklahoma who only speak their original traditional language. Tribal language departments are turning to fluent and monolingual speakers to help translate tribal words into English in efforts to preserve the languages. KRISTI EATON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Tribes draw knowledge from monolingual speakers

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
04/08/2014 08:31 AM
BRIGGS, Okla. (AP) – Mack Vann sits in the living room of his single-story home in rural Oklahoma with the television blaring, a news reporter giving details of the latest grisly crime to hit the state.

But the 83-year-old Vann doesn’t understand most of what the reporter is saying. Vann, who speaks only Cherokee, instead focuses on the visitors to his home, many of whom know only a few simple words of Vann’s Native American language.

“Osiyo,” he says to his new visitors, the Cherokee word for hello.

Vann is part of a fading population of American Indians in Oklahoma who speak only their Native American language, no English. Though Oklahoma was once known as Indian Country and ranks second in the nation in the number of Native American residents, many of the tribal languages are endangered or vulnerable to falling out of use.

That’s what makes Native Americans such as Vann, one of an estimated 50 Cherokee monolingual speakers in eastern Oklahoma, all the more interesting: They have somehow preserved their cultural identity through decades of pressure to assimilate, and now tribal language departments are turning to them to help keep their languages alive for future generations.

“They’re living treasures,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker says, “and it’s folks like him we bring in to pick their brains and say, ‘OK, what do you call the white oak tree? What do you call the other medicine trees? What’s the Cherokee word for them? What’s the old word for them?’ And the more we can pick their brains and the more the translation department can put it down, the more we can put it in not only hardback but on the web or a platform (and) the closer we’re coming to not even losing words.”

The Cherokee Nation has been at the forefront of language preservation. In the last few years, the tribe’s language department has worked to get the language added to Microsoft Windows 8, Google Gmail, and Apple’s iPhone and iPad. Most recently, a dozen Cherokee speakers spent last year translating 150,000 modern English terms into Cherokee so people can use the language on Microsoft Office web apps including Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

To make all that happen, the tribe draws upon the knowledge of speakers such as Vann, a descendant of Andrew Ross, the brother of Cherokee Chief John Ross, who led thousands of Cherokees to Indian Country during their forced removal from the southeastern United States.

Vann, who grew up in Greasy, a predominantly Cherokee community in eastern Oklahoma, learned some English in school but dropped out after the fourth grade to help with the family farm and slowly lost the ability to speak it.

Now, he says, he’s too old to learn it. Instead, friends and family help him translate when he needs help. Vann, whose wife died several years ago, worked at the Cherokee Heritage Center for years and continues to sell handmade bows.

Speaking through a translator in the backyard of his Briggs home, Vann, a citizen of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, says he would like more children to learn to speak Cherokee. He speaks with two young children on a regular basis in hopes of helping them learn the language.

“Everybody is just changing their ways and not really concentrating on our culture,” he says.

And as more tribal citizens like Vann age, it becomes increasingly important for tribes to preserve their vast cultural knowledge.

In January, the Chickasaw Nation, another large Oklahoma tribe, announced the passing of their last monolingual speaker, Emily Johnson Dickerson, 93. Dickerson, who died at her Ada home in late December, was among only about 70 fluent Chickasaw speakers.

“Emily Dickerson was a treasured elder who held the Chickasaw language and ways of life close to her heart,” Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said in a statement. “This is a sad day for all Chickasaw people because we have lost a cherished member of our Chickasaw family and an unequalled source of knowledge about our language and culture.”

Culture

BY STAFF REPORTS
06/24/2015 05:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. –The 63rd Cherokee National Holiday Little Cherokee Ambassador Competition application deadline is set for July 22. According to www.cherokee.org, the overall goal of Little Cherokee Ambassadors is to begin instilling leadership skills that will help them eventually become leaders for the Cherokee Nation. Participating in the Little Cherokee Ambassador event is intended to inspire youth to achieve their dreams. They are also encouraged to “lead by example” and become self-sufficient, as well as gain knowledge of their Cherokee heritage and begin to recognize their history, culture and language. Those who wish to apply must be a CN citizen, reside within the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction, be between ages 4 to 12 years old, ne physically able to perform duties, must not have previously served as Little Cherokee Ambassador in the same division and must provide a completed Little Cherokee Ambassador application by deadline. The Little Cherokee Ambassador competition will be on Aug. 8 at Sequoyah Schools’ Place Where They Play. Each age division will compete and the new ambassadors will be announced at the end of the event. Age categories range from 4 to 6 years old, 7 to 9 years old and 10 to 12 years old. Applications should be emailed to <a href="mailto: kristen-smith@cherokee.org">kristen-smith@cherokee.org</a>, hand delivered to the CN College Resource Center or mailed to Cherokee Nation Little Cherokee Ambassador Program, Attention: Kristen Thomas, College Resource Center, P.O. Box 948, Tahlequah, OK 74465. For more information, call Kristen Thomas at 918-525-2266.
BY STAFF REPORTS
06/18/2015 01:13 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Spider Gallery and The American Indian Cultural Center and Museum are coming together to celebrate Cherokee artists Bill and Demos Glass and their artwork. At 6 p.m. on June 18 a miniature replica of one of their pieces will be unveiled, which will offer a sneak peek of the larger sculptured work. During the celebration, Bill and Demos will also talk about their process when creating their art and the symbolism the art holds. The celebration coincides with Tahlequah’s Third Thursday Art Walk. All galleries and shops will be open until 8:30 p.m. on this day.
BY STAFF REPORTS
06/16/2015 12:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On June 20, the Cherokee Nation is offering free museum admission to dads in recognition of Father’s Day. CN museums are the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum, the Cherokee National Prison Museum and the John Ross Museum. Originally built in 1844, the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum is Oklahoma’s oldest public building. The 1,950-square-foot museum features exhibits on three historic aspects: the Cherokee National Judicial System, the Cherokee Advocate and Cherokee Phoenix newspapers and the Cherokee language, with a variety of historical items, including photos, stories, objects and furniture. Touch screen kiosks offer visitors documentary style learning on various legal topics as well as teaching conversational Cherokee. The Cherokee National Prison was the only penitentiary building in Indian Territory from 1875 to 1901. It housed sentenced and accused prisoners from throughout the territory. The interpretive site and museum give visitors an idea about how law and order operated in Indian Territory. The site features a working blacksmith area and reconstructed gallows, exhibits about famous prisoners and daring escapes, local outlaws and Cherokee patriots, jail cells and much more. The John Ross Museum highlights the life of John Ross, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation for more than 38 years, and houses exhibits and interactive displays on the Trail of Tears, Civil War, Cherokee Golden Age and Cherokee Nation’s passion for education. The museum is housed in an old, rural school building known as School #51 and sits at the foot of Ross Cemetery, where John Ross and other notable Cherokee citizens are buried. The Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum is located at 122 E. Keetoowah St., and the Cherokee National Prison Museum is at 124 E. Choctaw St., both in Tahlequah. The John Ross Museum is located at 22366 S. 530 Road in Park Hill. CN museums are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday For information on Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism, call 1-877-779-6977 or visit <a href="http://www.VisitCherokeeNation.com" target="_blank">www.VisitCherokeeNation.com</a>.
BY TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
06/15/2015 08:45 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Growing up Choctaw Nation citizen Joanne Davis spent a lot of time in the kitchen learning how to cook with her mother, grandmother and sister. But for the past 10 years, she has been making a Cherokee and Choctaw favorite, grape dumplings. “I’d have to get in there and learn how to do stuff, so I just grew up cooking and helping in the kitchen, learning how to make beans and gravy and stuff like that,” she said. On days when her mother didn’t feel like cooking, Davis and her sister would take over in the kitchen. “I’ve always liked to learn new recipes,” Davis said. “I watch a lot of cooking shows too, try out new recipes and stuff. I just enjoy cooking.” Without following a written recipe, Davis’ sister taught her how to make grape dumplings. “I don’t really measure, so I can’t say how much flour I use, but we use all-purpose flour and we use grape juice,” Davis said. “We put some grape juice on the stove to boil and add sugar to that and then I just mix up the dough, which is the flour and grape juice. Then I roll it out and cut it up for the dumplings and throw them in there. That’s the way I was taught to make them.” While tribes make grape dumplings different ways, nowadays they are commonly made with grape juice instead of traditional possum grapes. According to “Culture and Customs of the Choctaw Indians” by Donna L. Akers, a traditional way to make grape dumplings is to gather the wild grapes in the fall and dry them on the stem. To cook, boil the grapes and then strain them through cheesecloth and set the juice aside. Then mix cornmeal, baking soda and salt until doughy and roll into shape and drop into the grape juice and cook until done. The dumplings absorb the grape juice and the remainder of the juice is thickened. Davis said with her way of making the dumplings for a small group of people usually takes about 30 minutes. However, she and her sister usually make them for large events, if asked, such as the Free Feed during the Cherokee National Holiday over Labor Day weekend. They also make fry bread to go along with the dumplings. “I enjoy making them and I feel like I’m contributing to the dinners,” she said. “I just enjoy cooking in general. I’m making stuff that people like. It makes me feel proud of myself.” <strong>Cherokee Nation recipe for grape dumplings</strong> 1 cup flour 1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder 2 teaspoons sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon shortening 1/2 cup grape juice Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and shortening. Add juice and mix into stiff dough. Roll dough thin on floured board and cut into strips 1/2-inch wide, or roll dough in hands and break off pea-sized bits. Drop into boiling grape juice and cook for 10 to 12 minutes. – <a href="http://www.cherokee.org" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org</a> <strong>Choctaw Nation recipe for grape dumplings</strong> 1/2 gallon unsweetened grape juice 2 cups sugar 2 tablespoons shortening, melted 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 cup water flour Bring grape juice to a boil with the sugar. Mix water, shortening and baking powder. Add enough flour to make stiff dough. Roll out thin on a floured board and cut into pieces. Drop each of these one at a time into the boiling juice. Cook over high heat about 5 minutes. Then simmer for about 10 minutes with cover on before serving. May be served with cream or plain. – <a href="http://www.choctawnation.com" target="_blank">www.choctawnation.com</a>
BY STAFF REPORTS
06/12/2015 12:00 PM
COLCORD, Okla. –There will be free Cherokee language classes starting June 18 at the Talbot Library and Museum. The classes are from 9 a.m. to noon every Thursday and Saturday for five weeks. Those in attendance will learn beginning phonetics and will partake in syllabary writing practice. Students are encouraged to bring a writing utensil and a notepad. The class is open to anyone who would like to attend. The Talbot Library and Museum is located at 500 S. Colcord Ave. For more information, call class instructor Lawrence Panther at 918-232-6909 or email <a href="mailto: panther@nsuok.edu">panther@nsuok.edu</a>.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
06/10/2015 08:16 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A panel exhibit is on display at the Cherokee Nation Veterans Service Center through Nov. 30 that highlights how Native soldiers and marines developed unbreakable codes to help win both world wars. “Code Talkers: How Natives Saved the United States” features standing panels that provide the history of Native Code Talkers and how they developed their unbreakable codes. In World War II, Germany’s military code was eventually broken. However, the enemy not could break the codes of Cherokee, Comanche, Navajo and other Native warriors. No machine understood their languages. Travis Owens, manager of Planning and Development for Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism, said research was done to determine if there were Cherokee Code Talkers in World War I or World War II. “We did a lot of research and found out there was only one proven Cherokee Code Talker named George Adair. We presented some options for what we could do to memorialize the Code Talkers knowing that we could only document one so far,” Owens said. “One of those options was to to do a special exhibition on the history, not just Cherokee, but how Code Talkers saved America – the history of all tribes involved.” He said the exhibit highlights the Code Talkers’ legacy that included Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Choctaw, Comanche and Navajo soldiers and marines and why they served. The exhibit also highlights Adair who served with the 36th Division in Europe during World War I. In 2000, Congress passed a law that awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the original 29 World War II Navajo Code Talkers and silver medals to each person who qualified as a Navajo Code Talker. In 2007, 18 Choctaw Code Talkers were posthumously awarded the Texas Medal of Valor for their World War II service. These two events are highlighted in the exhibit along with the fact The Code Talkers Recognition Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, which recognized every Native American Code Talker who served in the U.S. military during WWI or WWII with a Congressional Gold Medal. In 2013, 25 tribes were awarded Congressional Gold Medals in recognition of the dedication and valor of Native American Code Talkers during WWI and WWII. The CN received one of those medals, which is on display in the exhibit. Owens said the exhibit also addresses the misconception that every tribe had Code Talkers who served. People will also learn about how the Native soldiers and marines created their codes, which tribes had a formal code-talking program, why Natives adapted better to military life and why Natives fought in World War I when they weren’t citizens of the United States. In the early 20th century, the Great Depression was particularly hard on Native Americans. Jobs and money were scarce, and families and communities were suffering. The military offered free room, board, clothing, food and pay to enlisted soldiers, which was a huge draw to the Native American population. The armed forces provided a job and place to live, while allowing them to send money home to their families. This history is highlighted in the exhibit. “This Code Talker exhibit honors the brave Native soldiers who used our Cherokee language and other Native languages to defeat enemies in multiple wars dating back to World War I,” Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden said. “Had it not been for their courageous efforts, the outcome of those wars could have been drastically different. We are proud to share their story with the public.” The CN Veterans Service Center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information about this and other historical attractions, visit <a href="http://www.VisitCherokeeNation.com" target="_blank">www.VisitCherokeeNation.com</a>.