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 LINDSEY BARK
Staff Writer
01/11/2017 08:15 AM
LOCUST GROVE, Okla. – Since he was 8 years old, Cherokee Nation citizen Dave Standingwater has had an interest in archery and been fascinated by the flight of the arrow. Growing up in the Snake Creek Community near Locust Grove, Standingwater learned about hunting from his grandmother, Maggie Whitekiller Standingwater. His first hunting experience was at age 13, killing a deer with a bow and arrow his uncle made. “I was hooked after that,” he said. He said when times were hard and his father was unemployed, he helped out by hunting and providing for his family. “It was rough times back then,” he said. Years later, he became a nationally ranked archer in the Cabela’s Archery Shooters Association, competing across the United States and in national championship tournaments. In 1991, he experienced his first archery outing when his son invited him to a 3-D archery range in Locust Grove. Though he hunted growing up, shooting 3-D targets proved a challenge. “My first outing was terrible. I was so bad, and so I asked them if they (archery range) was open every weekend. So I went back. I started shooting and practicing,” Standingwater said. He said he practiced at home for 20 minutes to 30 minutes a day, eventually entering local archery tournaments. “I got to taking first, second and third place trophies and stuff like that,” he said. In 1994, he joined the Cabela’s Archery Shooters Association tour and his first tournament was in Oklahoma City. He began competing in out-of-state tournaments and racked up points to qualify for the championship tournament in Tennessee. “At that particular tournament, there were like 2,500 actual shooters, and I shot the traditional way – stick and string,” he said. He used a custom-made modern dual-purpose Black Widow bow. He said competing nationally enhanced his archery skills against many high-level shooters. “If you missed, your arrow was just gone. But in competition like that you didn’t miss, you just didn’t miss, he said.” He competed until 2001. He never won a championship tournament but often placed second and third. One of the biggest highlights of his career was when a Cabela’s magazine recognized him as one of the top 10 traditional bow shooters in the nation during the 1999 tour. “I started looking down that list there and my name was No. 7. I wore that magazine out showing people,” Standingwater said. “I just wanted to shoot. I never thought that I’d become in the top 10 bracket.” Now at 74, Standingwater continues his passion for shooting, bow making and learning how to flint knap. He made his first bow out of bois d’arc, learned how to cut a stave (a trimmed rod of wood used to make a bow) and make bowstring from squirrel hide. He studies to become a more “powerful” and “faster” bow shooter and said he is staying with the traditional way of shooting so that he has the knowledge to survive and provide for his family if he needs to. “I’m a full traditional shooter. I don’t aim down the arrow. I don’t look at the string. I look at the place where I want to hit. That’s where I want the arrow to go and that’s what I’m looking at. So that’s as traditional as you can get. I think that’s a plus when you get out in the woods. A lot of times your shots are going to be quick,” he said. He said he’s passing his archery knowledge to his family and compared his great-niece’s shooting to that of Robin Hood. He said the two often take nature walks and practice shooting rabbits and squirrels. Standingwater said he’s retained what he learned from his grandmother, who was a midwife and knew how to gather plants for medicines. Through her, he also learned to fish and gather foods that are in season. “I learned a lot from my grandmother, (she) taught me a lot.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/10/2017 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Speakers Bureau will be held Thursday January 12, 2017 from 12:30 - 4pm. We will meet in the Community Ballroom that is located behind the Restaurant of the Cherokee. All Cherokee speakers are invited to attend. If you want to bring a side dish or a dessert, feel free to bring it. Come speak Cherokee and enjoy food and fellowship. For further information about the event, please contact the Language Program Office: 918-453-5151, 918-453-6170, 918-453-5487.
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/10/2017 08:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Congratulations to Cherokee Nation citizen Dana Parks from Brownsboro, Texas, for being the Cherokee Phoenix’s fourth-quarter giveaway winner. On Jan. 3, Parks won beaded jewelry made by Native Uniques owner Samantha Barnes. The winning package consisted of a bracelet, necklace, dream catcher and earrings. Parks won it after Cherokee Phoenix staff members drew her name from approximately 170 entries. Parks joins Nan Butler, of Wellston, Wauneta Wine of Columbia, Maryland, and Dale Easky of St. Clair, Missouri, as the 2016 Cherokee Phoenix quarterly giveaway winners. Butler won four painted tiles by Cherokee artist MaryBeth Timothy of MoonHawk Art for the third-quarter contest. Wine won a carving by Cherokee sculptor Matthew Girty for the second quarter, and Easky won a knife by Cherokee knife maker Ray Kirk for the first quarter. Entries can be obtained by donating to the Cherokee Phoenix’s Elder Fund or buying a Cherokee Phoenix subscription or merchandise. One entry is given for every $10 spent or donated. The Cherokee Phoenix will hold its first quarterly drawing for 2017 on April 3 when it gives away a finger-woven belt made by Jules Brison of Waterspider Creations. For more information regarding the giveaways, call Samantha Cochran at 918-207-3825 or Justin Smith at 918-207-4975 or email samantha-cochran@cherokee.org or justin-smith@cherokee.org. For more information on Waterspider Creations, visit <a href="http://www.etsy.com/shop/WaterspidercreaGifts" target="_blank">www.etsy.com/shop/WaterspidercreaGifts</a> or <a href="https://www.facebook.com/waterspidercreations/" target="_blank">https://www.facebook.com/waterspidercreations/</a>. For more information on Native Uniques, go to Nativeuniques.com or call 918-214-0030.
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/04/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In January, two traditional basket-weaving classes will be offered at the United Keetoowah Band’s John Hair Cultural Center and Museum. Each class will have a two-day session with the first class taking place on Jan. 5-6 and the second on Jan. 19-20. All classes are from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. During the first class students will learn how to weave around a glass flower vase, and during the second class students will focus on weaving a basket and fitting it with a woven lid. Cindy Hair, a Keetoowah Tradition Keeper and master basket weaver, will teach the classes. She has approximately 50 years of weaving experience, and her basketry is known around the country. “I just love weaving baskets and love teaching basket weaving,” she said. “I want to keep it up and pass it on as long as I can.” The classes cost $25 each with reed being provided. Students are encouraged to bring their own vase, but vases will be available for purchase for $2. For more information or to register, call 918-772-4389.
BY LINDSEY BARK
Staff Writer
01/04/2017 08:15 AM
BRIGGS, Okla. – For the past 65 years, United Keetoowah Band citizen and Cherokee National Treasure Dorothy Lee Ice has been loom weaving, an art form used to make items such as belts, scarves, headbands, bookmarks, bracelets and shawls. Ice, of Briggs, became an employee of the Sequoyah Indian Weavers in the 1940s when she was 15 years old. She became interested in weaving after watching weaver Lucille Hair. After a time, her curiosity brought her back to watch the loom weavers. Bill Ames, a man from New York who ran the SIW, approached Ice and asked if she would like to learn. She did not hesitate and was employed that day. Her first woven piece was a blanket. “I just loved it when I first started. What got me interested, mostly, was (I) just got in there and started. I didn’t have to ask any questions,” Ice said. She said loom weaving consists of using a wooden loom, stringing or threading a warp and using shuttles on the loom to create a design. Ice said she only uses four designs when weaving. “I use plain weave, hit and miss, herring bone and diamond. That’s all I do,” she said. Ice said SIW employees were paid by “piece work.” Once an item was completed John Ketcher, of the Sequoyah Vocational School and former Tribal Councilor, inspected it. He was able to spot a flaw instantly, and if it was not good, the weaver had to re-create the piece. Once items passed inspected, they were shipped to New York to be sold. She said at the time, along with the Briggs weaving hall, there were weaving halls ran by Ames in Bull Hollow, Peavine and Jay. Ice worked for the Briggs SIW until 1960 and again in 1964 until it was shut down because of robberies and a lack of weaving material. She continued to loom weave on her own and only created made-to-order items. She said loom weaving remains the same as the art form has not evolved much from the time she started. She became a Cherokee National Treasure in 1991 for her knowledge of loom weaving and said that meant she “better be learning more and teaching more.” Ice, 81, now teaches classes at the Cherokee Arts Center in Tahlequah. The classes are commissioned through the Cherokee Nation. “(Out of) the Cherokees, I think I am the only one that is weaving. I would like to pass it on, and all I want to hear from them (students) is ‘I learned this from so and so, and I taught so and so.’ That’s all I want to hear from them. I just want to pass it on. I don’t want it to die,” Ice said. “If they want to learn and I know it, and I am able to teach them, I would like to teach them. I think it would be important for them to learn all of the traditions so that they can survive if hard times come.” Aside from loom weaving, Ice teaches reading and writing of the Cherokee language, her first language, and teaches others how to make shackles for stomp dances. As a UKB citizen, she also received that tribe’s Tradition Keeper Award for loom weaving in 2014. She also worked for Briggs Schools for many years as a teacher’s assistant and bus driver. In her spare time, she likes to clog dance at the senior citizens center in Tahlequah.
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/28/2016 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizens Richard and Sheila Fields will host a grand opening of their new 4 Winds, 7 Clans Gallery at noon, Jan. 7 in Tahlequah. A ribbon cutting will take place at 2 p.m., Jan. 5 at the gallery hosted by the Tahlequah Chamber of Commerce. “4 Winds, 7 Clans Gallery showcases fine art by Cherokee National Treasures in addition to creations by up and coming Cherokee artists and craftsmen,” said Sheila. “All artists showcased in the gallery are of Cherokee descent, many are fluent in their Cherokee language, and each Cherokee artist brings their heritage to life through their individual talents and gifts which they pour into the design found in their art.” She added that the Cherokee elders among the Cherokee National Treasures inspired the gallery and that is why they are featured within it. “We are starting slow and we’re going to grow from there. We hope to add classes soon, a legacy for our artists,” said Richard. “If you are looking for authentic Cherokee art then you will find something to your liking in 4 Winds, 7 Clans Gallery.” The gallery is located at 210 S. Muskogee and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.