Kansas linguistics professor wins grant to preserve language

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
08/06/2017 04:00 PM
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — At the time of his death in 1999, Parker McKenzie was regarded as the oldest living member of the Kiowa tribe. Born in a teepee in Oklahoma three years prior to the 20th century, he was also widely recognized as an amateur linguist who played a fundamental role in developing a dictionary of his native Kiowa language nearly 100 years ago.

"He was just known for being the guy that you would go to," Andrew McKenzie recalls of his great-grandfather, whose many projects included the documentation of Kiowa history, cultural artifacts and language.

The elder McKenzie's method for writing Kiowa using English characters is still used, in a modified version, by researchers today. And Andrew McKenzie, who grew up knowing bits and pieces of the language, is one of them.

McKenzie, an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Kansas, recently secured a grant from the federal government that will allow him to continue his great-grandfather's work in preserving the Kiowa language — a pressing need, McKenzie says, as the number of fluent Kiowa speakers dwindles by the year.

"Languages only exist in our minds, so once those speakers leave us, they take the knowledge with them, essentially, unless that knowledge is preserved through documentation," says McKenzie, who began formally studying Kiowa about 20 years ago. "In that sense, the documentation becomes essential because it would allow the language to survive into the future."

The more complete that documentation is, McKenzie adds, the better chances are for the language's survival as native speakers pass away. Kiowa, like many North American languages, is "extremely endangered," says McKenzie, who estimates there are about 60 fluent speakers left. They're mostly elderly and concentrated in McKenzie's home state of Oklahoma, where he often travels to conduct interviews with remaining Kiowa speakers. And they likely won't be around much longer, he says.

"I think the youngest person I've worked with was in their 80s," McKenzie says.

The Lawrence Journal-World reports that earlier this month, McKenzie learned he'd won a three-year grant from the Documenting Endangered Languages program of the National Science Foundation. The $112,000 award will allow him to "fill a gap" in the study of Kiowa grammar, work his great-grandfather started as a kid passing notes in his native tongue — speaking Kiowa was strictly forbidden at the boarding school he and other Native Americans were forced to attend — during class to his girlfriend, funnily enough.

That early system devised by Parker McKenzie became the basis for methods still used today, though there's no consensus on the matter, McKenzie says. The Kiowa tribe has never voted to designate an official writing system.

These days, McKenzie is using his great-grandfather's system to document and expand our understanding of Kiowa's semantic grammar. Or, as McKenzie describes it, "the meaning of the language, and how that meaning interacts with the structure."

Linguistically, Kiowa's closest relatives are the handful of languages spoken by Pueblo peoples in New Mexico, McKenzie says. It's far removed from more well-known North American dialects such as Cherokee and Navajo, he says, and completely unrelated to European languages. Kiowa is unique, among other traits, for its ejective sounds and tone system, in which "the pitch of the sound can be as distinctive as two distinct sounds," McKenzie explains.

Throughout the duration of the grant, McKenzie will work on a book, associated scholarly articles and teaching materials such as booklets, games and flashcards.

"Growing up I remember he would frequently lament that his progeny were not learning the language," McKenzie says of his great-grandfather. "In that sense, I think he'd be excited."

"I think if he were still around, he'd be the first to help me out," McKenzie said.

Education

BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
10/12/2017 10:00 AM
WASHINGTON – The Global Press Institute is offering Native American women an experience with its Tribal Nations training-to-employment program, which allows women who are enrolled citizens in a tribe the opportunity to become journalists even if they have no prior experience in the field. Cristi Hegranes, GPI founder and executive director, said in 2016 GPI conducted a pilot of the Tribal Nation’s program and are “excited” to expand the program and accurately tell the Native American story with hopes to get women from Oklahoma involved. “So much of the coverage that makes it to the national scale is so stereotypically driven, and it really demonstrates a lack of understanding of so much of what happened within communities, tribal governments,” she said. “So we are expanding Global Press Tribal Nations to work with women from a variety of different tribes and communities across the United States to join the Global Press program.” Hegranes said the program includes “rigorous” training and “long-term” employment. “Anyone who graduates from our training program will receive long-term employment to cover their community over the long-term working for Global Press Journal,” she said. Those who are accepted into the program would take part in a weeklong training in Washington, D.C., before reporting in their communities. “We’ll be bringing women from all different tribes together to spend a week together learning what we call the principals and the practice of Global Press Journalism,” she said. “Then everyone will go back to their communities and they spend a couple of months doing three to six stories working with Global Press editors and fact checkers and copy editors to produce really unique coverage from the community.” Hegranes said it’s important to highlight that no prior journalism experience or basic education limit is required and that applicants must be 18 or older. “Really the only thing that is required is a natural curiosity and passion for storytelling and really the time to commit to the training and the long-term story production from the communities,” she said. “On average we work with our reporters for more than five years after the training. So we’re really looking for people who want to make an investment in their future as journalists.” Hegranes said this “extraordinary” opportunity offers these future journalists the chance to play a “pivotal” role in changing the narrative for their community. “Global Press news stories reach about 20 million people around the world every month. So this is a huge opportunity to really increase accurate information, to really dive in beyond the stereotypes and tell really authentic, true, important stories that might otherwise never be told,” she said. Hegranes said GPI has been developing independent news bureaus in under-covered parts of the world for the past 11 years. “The way that our program works is we identify local women from these communities and we put them through a rigorous training process. Teaching them to be ethical, accurate, investigative, feature journalists,” she said. The deadline to apply is Oct. 15. To apply, visit <a href="http://bit.ly/2yF7fqP" target="_blank">http://bit.ly/2yF7fqP</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/15/2017 11:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – As required by the Oklahoma Department of Education’s Child Nutrition Program, Sequoyah Schools has announced its policy for free or reduced-price meals for children served under the National School Lunch, School Breakfast and the After-School Snack programs. The policy is for Sequoyah School and the Cherokee Immersion Charter School. Due to regulations, all school food authorities or institutions must submit annually a public release to the informational media, local unemployment office, any companies contemplating layoffs in that district’s area, grassroots organizations and interested individuals upon request. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2017/9/11588__brief_170911_SequoyahLunchPolicy.pdf" target="_blank">Click here</a>to read the policy document.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
08/29/2017 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After beginning as a pilot program in 2014-15, the Cherokee Language Teacher Program is back to provide five Northeastern State University students the chance to earn an education degree with a Cherokee language-teaching emphasis. “We’ve been kind of modifying some of the steps that we’re taking, how the program operates. We didn’t have a coordinator at the time for this scholarship, so that’s why we hired Lawrence (Panther),” Cherokee Language Department Director Roy Boney said. “Lawrence is a first-language speaker of Cherokee. He recently graduated from NSU from the Cherokee Degree Program, and so he knows the whole process of going through college, and he can help them with that aspect and the language, too.” According to a 2014 Cherokee Phoenix story, the Cherokee Language Teacher Program began after the Cherokee Nation cut annual funding from $100,000 to $25,000 to the Cherokee Language Program at NSU. The cut eventually led to the end of the Cherokee Language Program, which had existed for nine academic years. Dr. Neil Morton, CN Education Services senior advisor, said the teacher program would supply the certified teachers that tribal officials had hoped to gain from the original program, according to the story. “So we’re proposing a program where we would pre-identify five students that have some level of proficiency in Cherokee and who are hopefully residing in a Cherokee community where they’re exposed to the culture and life ways of Cherokee people,” Morton said in the 2014 story. “And those five would be immersed in our immersion program.” The Cherokee Language Teacher Program’s goal is to certify students so they can teach in schools and give them the skills to teach in Cherokee. “The scholarship is given to applicants that are majoring in early childhood education, elementary education and Cherokee education at NSU,” Boney said. The scholarship will be offered at a staggered rate and covers tuition costs, books, fees and room and board, Boney added. “So as one student will go through the program and graduate we can bring in more and it kind of keeps this rotation going,” he said. “It’s open to all Cherokee Nation citizens, and it’s only at NSU at the moment. It covers all books, fees, tuition and room and board. If a student doesn’t live on campus they get a stipend for the equivalent of one semester’s worth of room and board at NSU.” Boney said the scholarship is only offered to five students because officials want a “strong” cohort. “It’s geared for five people total, and the reason why it’s so small is because getting that group together, a really strong cohort...they can really learn together,” he said. “Lawrence is the one that coordinates their schedules, and he will also be teaching them the language and coordinating their time with other speakers.” Panther, the program’s coordinator, said working with five students would be “easier” because everyone’s schedules are different. “It’s a lot easier with just five students. According to the schedules, it’s really zigzag and all that stuff. It’s kind of hard really to get them all together all at once,” he said. “We’ll be able to meet once a week, at least in the evenings.” Boney said aside from participating in normal coursework, students would work with teachers at the Cherokee Immersion Charter School and Cherokee Language Department employees. “They’ll be at the immersion school kind of acting in a way as interns, and they’ll be working with the staff that we have here like with the translators and the other speakers in our department,” he said. As students advance, Boney said a group of Cherokee speakers would assess the students’ abilities to determine if they are making the necessary progress to stay in the program. “We are really looking for people that really will be committed to the whole program and finish at the end with the idea to have them be certified teachers and to actually have some Cherokee language knowledge they can teach in the classroom, too,” he said. According to the program overview, students would be required to work at the immersion school or at one of the tribe’s cooperative satellite programs in public schools within the CN jurisdiction upon graduation. “It’s modeled after the (Cherokee Nation) Directed Studies (Scholarship) Program, so the students would work for the same number of years they were funded,” Boney said. Panther said he plans to visit area schools to recruit future students for the program. “I’ll be visiting some schools that have Cherokee language programs. It’s going to kind of work out in the next couple of years. I’ll be able to, hopefully, recruit them.” Boney said it’s important to have more certified teachers teaching Cherokee. “There’s a lot of demand from various communities to have Cherokee language teachers, and there’s not many that have the skills to do that,” he said. “As it goes, the teachers that we have now that can speak Cherokee that are certified. In a few years they’re going to be retiring so we need to have people coming up behind them that can fill those positions.” For more information, email <a href="mailto: language@cherokee.org">language@cherokee.org</a>. <strong>Cherokee Language Teacher Program Qualifications</strong> • Must demonstrate some conversational Cherokee language: o Ability to have a basic conversation in Cherokee o Fluency will be increased by program participation • Must have a strong desire to speak Cherokee and a passion for the language. • Must have a strong desire to teach and work with children. • Must be a Cherokee Nation citizen. • Must be a student at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. • Must enroll as a full-time student (12 credit hours minimum). • Must reside in the Cherokee Nation’s contiguous 14-county jurisdictional area. Proof of residency is required.
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
News Writer – @cp_bbennett
08/28/2017 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilors on Aug. 15 modified the Cherokee Nation’s budget to fund current Cherokee Promise Scholars through graduation and supplement incoming freshman for the 2017-18 academic year. The modification moved $250,000 to the tribe’s Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act budget. “We set money back every year because some grants are matching grants,” Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor said in the Aug. 15 Education Committee meeting. “This funding has come together from funding that (CN) Education (Services) has, from the NAHASDA funding that we can use for this and the matching grants.” Fifty-one Cherokee Promise scholars will continue to receive $4,600 per semester through graduation as long as they meet eligibility requirements. Once the last cohort graduates in 2020, the program will end and there are “no immediate future plans” for a replacement, Education Services Executive Director Ron Etheridge said. Of the 98 freshmen who submitted a Cherokee Promise Scholarship application, 70 will receive $4,600 per semester for fall 2017-18. However, those students are not classified as Cherokee Promise scholars. After spring 2018, those 70 students will only be eligible for up to $3,000 per semester via the $2,000 CN Undergraduate Scholarship and the $1,000 College Housing Assistance Scholarship. The other 28 students were not eligible for the Cherokee Promise Scholarship because they don’t live within the tribe’s jurisdiction and weren’t Pell Grant eligible. However, they will receive $2,000 for the 2017-18 academic year with the CN Undergraduate Scholarship. Confusion surrounding the Cherokee Promise Scholarship began when applicants learned via a letter dated Aug. 2 that the program would no longer fund new scholars “due to a reinterpretation of federal guidelines.” It also informed applicants to apply for other CN scholarships. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said the funding cuts resulted from several factors, including an internal review and reinterpretation of NAHASDA guidelines. “That gave us the reason to go to all the programs and re-evaluate where NAHASDA dollars were going so that we could best serve all of the Cherokees under NAHASDA funding,” he said. “Our review showed that maybe that wasn’t a proper use of the funds, and one of the first things I told my executive directors and everybody is, ‘keep me legal.’ It was before my time. It was before any of my Education (Services) folks’ time.” Attorney General Todd Hembree said the scholarship funding was not illegal, but to be “good stewards” of CN money, tribal administration, Education Services and NAHASDA officials decided to “reprogram” the funds to “find funding that is without question.” Treasurer Lacey Horn said administration officials were also unaware of the situation and would have had funds to cover freshman applicants if proper time had been given to go through the “legislatively required process of a budget modification request.” The Cherokee Promise Scholarship program began in 2011, funding eligible freshman who resided within the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction with a per semester scholarship of $4,600 if they attended Northeastern State University. Rogers State University and Connors State College were added as Cherokee Promise schools later. To maintain the scholarship, recipients had to keep at least a 2.7 grade point average, complete community service hours and live with their cohort in designated campus housing. Scholars were also given on-site advisement and cultural education through Cherokee language classes and activities. It is the latter that Jacob Chavez, a Cherokee Promise Scholar and NSU junior, said he was concerned about in light of the program being discontinued. “I think that it is unfortunate that the program is ending because it provides opportunities for future Cherokee leaders,” he said. “The program is valuable because it helps foster both language and culture for its members. Hopefully, the Cherokee Nation realizes this importance and works to bring a similar program back in the future.” Echoing those thoughts was 2011 Cherokee Promise Scholar Colten Boston. “It breaks my heart to hear about the program being cancelled,” he said. “A lot of my success at college and my appreciation of my Cherokee culture came from participating in it, and it saddens me that future students won’t have the same opportunity that I had.” Etheridge indicated he was “confident” students would still be interested in learning the culture and language in the program’s absence. “Yeah, it hurts a little bit that we’re losing that, but we’re still teaching the language in the 14 counties. I think it’s still being done. It’s just going to be done a different way. We just felt like there was a better way to utilize the funds to educate the masses.” Throughout the program’s six-year duration, 15 out of 300 students have graduated as Cherokee Promise Scholars, Etheridge said. He said the data was skewed largely because older students did not want to continue living in college housing, as the scholarship requires. For more information about CN scholarships, visit <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/Services/Education/College-Resources" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org/Services/Education/College-Resources</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
08/14/2017 12:00 PM
TAHELQUAH, Okla. – The Northeastern State University Alumni Association board of directors has chosen two Cherokee Nation citizens as 2017 honorees of the university’s Distinguished Alumnus awards. CN Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden and Julie Erb-Alvarez were selected as distinguished alumni and will receive their honors on Sept. 29 at the Alumni Association Honors Dinner and again Sept. 30 at the homecoming Emerald Ball. Both events are open to the public. Awards are presented annually to NSU alumni who, through personal achievement and service, have brought honor and distinction to both themselves and the university, a NSU release states. Crittenden graduated from NSU in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and business administration. Crittenden has previously served on the Tribal Council, as the Eastern Oklahoma vice president for the National Congress of American Indians and as a U.S. Postal Service postmaster. He is also a Navy veteran. “It is an honor to receive this award from Northeastern State University,” Crittenden said. “It has been 43 years since I graduated from the university, and I still wear my gold NSU class ring every single day. I was an atypical college student, returning to school after serving in the U.S. Navy during Vietnam. However, I was blessed to receive an excellent education at NSU, and what I learned there helped guide me on a long career of public service.” Crittenden has given back to NSU by supporting the tribe’s efforts to restore Seminary Hall and install modern classroom technologies. He also offers support and advice to youth in their pursuit of higher-education opportunities. “I am proud to say I am an alum of a school that is so committed to Native students and developing leaders for Indian Country,” Crittenden said. “Cherokee Nation and NSU have established one of the most unique and successful collaborations between a tribal government and public higher education institution.” NSU President Dr. Steve Turner said Crittenden was extraordinarily qualified to be recognized as a distinguished alumnus. “His career path is highlighted by many years of service to the Cherokee Nation and to our country. I am so excited for Joe and his family and am honored to call him friend,” Turner said. Erb-Alvarez is a distinguished epidemiologist and chief of patient recruitment for the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute who graduated from NSU in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in health and human performance. She continued her education at the University of Oklahoma, earning a master’s degree in epidemiology. She has served as an epidemiologist for the Oklahoma Tribal Epidemiology Center, the Indian Health Service and the Bureau of Public Health, Ministry of Health in the Republic of Palau. Erb-Alvarez was commissioned into the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps in 2010 and was deployed to Monrovia, Liberia in response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa in 2014-15. She is a life member of the NSU Alumni Association. “I was truly honored when I received the call from NSU President Steve Turner. I was completely surprised and really excited when he told me I had been selected as one of the 2017 Distinguished Alumni. And then when explained who the other honorees were, it instilled another sense of pride and emotion. I am deeply grateful for this honor, and am completely humbled with the company I now keep, with those who are also being honored this year and those who have been honored in the past,” she said. “I look forward to NSU Homecoming Weekend in September when I can come back to my beloved alma mater and experience NSU all these many years later. I can’t wait to talk with students, educators, other professionals and friends – those who helped build my education – and share my post-graduation career and life experiences. I want them all to know and understand how much NSU has given me. I had a very solid foundation thanks to my years at NSU. It was easy for me to find my way and excel after an educational experience like that. Both of my parents are NSU graduates, and I was born while my parents were students and living at NSU married student housing. I have a long, long and wonderful history with NSU. The fact that NSU began as a Cherokee Seminary gives it all the more meaning to me as a Cherokee citizen.” Turner said Erb-Alvarez has amassed an outstanding list of accomplishments since her time at NSU.” “Her commitment to preserving the health of the nation and serving others through the National Institute of Health and the United States Public Health Service is admirable and makes her more than deserving of this honor,” he said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
08/09/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — According to a Cherokee Nation Communications release, the Sequoyah High School Alumni Association has created a scholarship opportunity for Cherokee students with the Cherokee Nation Foundation. The $15,475 donation was matched through the foundation’s “Leave a Legacy” program and now totals more than $30,000, the release states. “We learned about the foundation’s matching program and couldn’t resist the opportunity to double our dollars and make a lasting impact on future generations of Sequoyah graduates,” Dewayne Marshall, Sequoyah High School Alumni Association president, stated in the release. “We know that scholarships can sometimes be the deciding factor on whether or not a student goes to college and hope that our endowment will help bridge that gap. It’s important for them to know that there are alumni that care about them and support their pursuit of higher education, and hopefully, they return one day and do the same for others following in their footsteps.” According to the release, the endowment will support one $1,500 scholarship each year to a SHS graduating senior to attend the university of his or her choice. The scholarship is payable to the university and can be applied to tuition, books, fees, housing or other education-related expenses. “It is a great thing to impact the life of a student, and we are thrilled to have another donor join us in our mission to support Cherokee students,” CNF Executive Director Janice Randall said in the release. “We are thankful for the support we have received from our board of directors and Cherokee Nation administration and hope others will take advantage of this opportunity while it lasts.” According to the release, CNF launched the “Leave a Legacy” matching program in 2016, allocating $100,000 to match gifts ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, call Randall at 918-207-0950 or email <a href="mailto: jr@cherokeenationfoundation.org">jr@cherokeenationfoundation.org</a>.