Churches keep Cherokee language alive in sermons, song

BY CHAD HUNTER
Reporter
09/04/2020 02:30 PM
Audio Clip
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Round Springs Baptist Church in Eucha is among many eastern Oklahoma churches that still incorporate Cherokee language into services. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
EUCHA – In his early days of preaching, the Rev. Rufus King could give “a good half and half” of his service in Cherokee and English.

“Now, I can get by just English speaking,” the 79-year-old pastor of Round Springs Baptist Church in Eucha said. “But always I speak a few words (in Cherokee), just not the entire service. But I could. I love it. It’s important. I think about it, why the Lord gave us Cherokee language to use, to speak. The language itself is very important.”

Like fellow pastors in eastern Oklahoma, King has during the years seen a steady decrease in the number of Cherokee speaking church-goers. Still, he has more than most with approximately 30 – half of his congregation, he says.

“They are getting scarce,” King said, adding that he enjoys reading scripture in his first language. “I’ll take my Cherokee Testament with me, read them in Cherokee and talk about something that interests me. I could go probably about an hour. All the Cherokee speakers were probably like that, you know, when we had them – kind of long-winded. I am too a little bit. But when I do Cherokee, I love it.”

King, who has been preaching in Eucha for more than three decades, holds admiration for “those old-time preachers.”

“The way I understood it, the way I took it then, they wanted a Holy Spirit-led service,” he said. “When I read that scripture, the words are inspired by the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to write it down on a paper. That’s the way it is with me.”

Round Springs and a host of other local churches took part in the Cherokee Baptist Association’s 150-year anniversary celebration in 2019.

“I got a part to preach a complete, total Cherokee sermon,” King said. “I didn’t have to dig for anything. It just came out easy.”

While Elm Tree Baptist Church in Tahlequah no longer offers full sermons in Cherokee due to a dwindling number of speakers, the language is still used in Sunday school and singing. Of the 70-member congregation, approximately a dozen speak the language, according to the Rev. D.J. McCarter, the church’s pastor of 29 years.

“When the elders were with us – they’re all gone now – I did more of my sermon in Cherokee,” he said. “But today, most of the congregation don’t understand it. But if I want to emphasize something, sometimes a Cherokee word emphasizes it more than an English word.”

Henry Birdtail, a deacon at Oak Grove Baptist Church in Porum, said church-goers have in the past been taught Cherokee in Sunday school settings, but fluent speakers are rare.

“The full-speaking Cherokees, I just can’t find them nowhere no more hardly,” he said.

Cherokee National Treasure Dennis Sixkiller, a pastor at First Indian Baptist Church in Tahlequah, also sees just a handful of fluent speakers on Sundays.

“I do preach in Cherokee for a little bit because there’s not that many speakers there,” he said. “There’s a lot of Cherokee going on in some churches. We sing some at our church too, but not like it used to be when I was a kid.”

Having the language represented in some fashion is important to Sixkiller, a fluent speaker, “and should be important to all Cherokee citizens,” he said.
ᏣᎳᎩ

ᎤᏥ - ᏧᎴᏅᎲᏃ ᎠᎵᏣᏙᎲᏍᎬᎢ, ᎠᎵᏣᏙᎲᏍᎩ ᏩᎫᎵ ᏧᏓᎴᏅᏗ “ᎣᏍᏓ ᏱᎦᎢ” ᎠᎵᏣᏙᎲᏍᎬᎢ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᎴ ᏲᏩᏁᎬ ᎬᏗ ᏱᏂᎬᎦ ᎨᎲ. 
“ᎾᏊᏃ, ᏰᎵᏊ ᏱᏕᏥᎾᏗᏩ ᎩᎵᏏᏭ ᎬᏗ.,” ᎾᏍᎩᏃ 79- ᎢᏳᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎠᎵᏣᏙᎲᏍᎩ ᎥᎿ ᎦᏐᏆᎸᎢ ᏗᎦᏄᎪᎬᎢ ᏗᎾᏓᏬᏍᎩ ᏧᏂᎳᏫᏍᏗᎢ ᏗᎦᏘᏱ ᎥᎿ ᎤᏥ ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ. “ᎠᏎᏍᎩᏂ ᎯᎸᏍᎩ ᎢᎧᏁᏨᎢ ᏥᏁᎢᏍᏗᏍᎪᎢ (ᏣᎳᎩ ᎬᏗ), ᎥᏝ ᏂᎦᏅᎯᏒᎢ ᏯᏩᎵᏣᏙᎾ. ᎠᏎᏅ ᏱᏂᎦᏛᎦ. ᎠᎩᎧᏉᏗ. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎤᎵᏍᎨᏓ. ᎦᏓᏅᏖᏍᎪᏃ, ᏄᏰᎵᏛᎢ ᎤᏁᎳᏅᎯ ᏦᎩᏁᎸᎢ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎢᎬᏙᏗ, ᎢᎩᏁᏍᏗ. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᏥᎩ ᎤᎵᏍᎨᏗᏳ.” 
ᎠᏂᏐᎢ ᏗᏂᎦᏘᏱ ᎥᎿᎾ ᎧᎸᎬᎢ ᏗᏜ ᎣᎦᎳᎰᎹ, King Ꮓ ᎢᎪᎯᏓᏃ ᎾᎵᏣᏙᎲᏍᎩ ᎤᎪᎭ ᎠᏂᎦᏲᎶᎬᎢ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᏧᏂᎳᏫᏍᏗ ᎠᏁᏙᎯ. ᎠᏏᏊ, ᎠᏎᏍᎩᏂ ᎤᎪᏗ ᎠᏁᏙᎯ ᎥᎿ ᎠᏏᏅ ᎤᏣᏘᏂ ᎨᏒ ᏢᏃ 30 - ᏭᏂᎪᏛ ᎨᏒᎢ, ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ. 
“ᎠᏂᎦᏲᎶᎦ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ King, ᎠᏠᏯᏍᏗᎲᏃ ᎣᏍᏓ ᎤᏰᎸᏐᎢ ᎪᏪᎵ ᎤᎭᎨᏐ ᎠᎪᎵᏰᏍᎬᎢ ᎤᏩᏌ ᎤᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗᎢ ᎬᏗ. “ᏣᎳᎩ ᏗᎪᏪᎵ ᏥᎾᏫᏗᏍᎪᎢ ᏯᏪᎾ, ᏣᎳᎩ ᎬᏗ ᏥᎪᎵᏰᏍᎪ ᎠᎴ ᎪᎱᏍᏗ ᏯᏆᏍᏈᏂᎬᏓᏁᎸ ᏱᏕᎪᏏᏌ. ᏢᏃ ᏑᏟᎶᏓ ᏱᎪᎯᏓ. ᎬᏩᏓᎷᎳ ᏂᎦᏓ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎥᏍᎩ ᏄᎾᏍᏛᎢ, ᏣᏂᏔᏛ, ᏥᏕᎩᎧᎲ’Ᏼ - ᏍᏈᏍᏗ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ. ᎠᏯᎾᏍᏊ ᎤᏠᏱ. ᏣᎳᎩ Ꮓ ᎬᏗ ᎠᎩᎸᏉᏗ.” 
King, ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎥᎿ ᎤᏥ ᏦᏍᎪᎯ ᎢᏧᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎤᎶᏒᏍᏗ ᏂᎬᎵᏣᏙᎲᏍᎪᎢ, ᎨᏥᎸᏉᏗ “Ꮎ ᎠᏂᎦᏴᎵ ᎠᎾᎵᏣᏙᎲᏍᎩ.” 
“ᏄᏍᏛᏃ ᎪᎵᎬᎢ, ᏂᎨᎵᏍᎬᏃ, ᎦᎸᏉᏗᏳ ᎠᏓᏅᏙᎢ ᏚᎾᏘᏂᏙᎲᎢ ᏓᏂᎳᏫᎬᎢ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ. ᏱᏓᎩᎪᎵᏯ ᎪᏪᎵ ᎤᎭᎨᏗ, ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎦᎸᏉᏗᏳ ᎠᏓᏅᏙ ᎠᎩᏔᏂᏐᎢ. ᎥᏝ ᎠᏎ ᏦᏪᎶᏗ ᏱᎬᎦᎩ. ᎥᏍᎩᏃ ᏂᎤᏍᏗ ᎠᏯᏃ ᎨᏒᎢ.” 
ᎦᏐᏆᎸᏃ ᏗᎦᏄᎪᎬᎢ ᏓᏂᏯᏂᎰᎢ ᎠᏂᏐᎢ ᎡᏍᎦᏂ ᏗᏂᎳᏫᏥᏙᎯ ᎠᏁᎳᏕᎪᎢ ᎥᎿᎾ ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᏗᎾᏓᏬᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᏓᏡᎬᎢ 150-ᎢᏧᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᏂᎬᏂᎯᎵ ᎤᎾᏙᏢᏒᎢ ᎠᎴ ᎠᎾᎵᎮᎵᎬᎢ ᏗᎾᏓᏬᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᏓᏡᎬ ᎤᏕᏘᏱᏍᎬᎢ ᎠᎾᎵᎮᎵᎬᎢ ᎾᎯᏳᎢ 2019 ᏥᎨᏒᎢ. 
“ᎧᎵᏃ, ᏣᎳᎩᎭᏃ ᎠᏆᎵᏙᏅᎢ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ King. “ᎥᏝ ᎪᎱᏍᏗ ᎠᎩᏱᏍᏗ ᏱᎨᏎ. ᎠᎯᏗᏊᏃ ᎦᏥᎵᏄᎪᏫᏎᎸᎢ.” 
ᏓᏩᏥᎸᏃ ᏗᏡᎬᎢ ᏗᎾᏓᏬᏍᎩ ᏧᏂᎳᏫᏍᏗᎢ ᎥᏝ ᏣᎳᎩᎭ ᏯᎾᎵᏣᏙᎲᏍᎪᎢ ᎪᎯᏴ ᏥᎩ ᏂᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗᎭ ᎠᏂᎦᏲᎶᎬᎢ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ, ᎤᎾᏙᏓᏆᏍᎬᏃ ᏓᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎬᎢ ᎠᏏᏊᏃ ᏣᎳᎩᎭ ᎬᏗ ᎨᏐᎢ ᎠᎴ ᏓᏂᏃᎩᏍᎬᎢ. 70-Ꮓ ᎢᏳᏂᏨᎢ ᎠᏁᎳ, ᏢᏃ ᏔᎵᏚᏢ ᎾᏂᎠ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ, Rev.D.J.McCater ᎧᏃᎮᏍᎬᎢ, ᎥᎿᎾᏂ 29 ᎢᏧᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᏂᏓᎦᏘᏲᎢ. 
“ᎠᏂᎦᏴᎵᏃ ᎠᏏᏉ ᏣᏁᎮ -- ᏂᎦᏓᏃ ᎤᎾᏂᎩᏌ ᎾᏊ -- ᎤᎪᏕᎢ ᏣᎳᎩᎭ ᎬᎵᏣᏙᎲᏍᎬᎢ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ. 
ᎠᏎᏍᎩᏂ ᎪᎯᏴ ᏥᎩ, ᎤᏂᎪᏗ ᎠᏁᎳ ᎥᏝ ᏯᏃᎵᎦ. ᎠᏎᏅ ᎪᎱᏍᏗ ᎤᎪᏗ ᎤᏃᎵᏍᏗ ᏯᏆᏚᎵᎭ, ᏳᏓᎭᏃ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎧᏁᎢᏍᏗ ᏓᏤᏠᎢ ᎪᏟᏍᏗ ᎨᏐᎢ ᎠᏏᏅ ᏴᏩᏁᎬ ᎧᏁᎢᏍᏗ.” 
Henry Birdtail, ᎠᏯᏙᎯ ᏥᎩ ᎥᎿᎾ Oak Grove ᏗᎾᏓᏬᏍᎩ ᏧᏂᎳᏫᏍᏗ ᎥᎿᎾ ᎤᎴᏐᏛᎢ, ᎢᎧᏃᎮᏍᎬᎢ ᏗᏂᎳᏫᎩ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏧᏩᎬᏛᏅᎢ ᎨᎨᏲᎲᏍᎬᎢ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎤᎾᏙᏓᏆᏍᎬᎢ ᏓᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎬᎢ, ᎠᏎᏍᎩᏂ ᎠᏂᏂᎬᎦ ᎧᎵ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ. 
“ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎧᎵ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᏣᎳᎩ, ᏍᏓᏱᎢ ᏗᏩᏛᏗᎢᏅ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ. 
ᏣᎳᎩ ᎢᎬᎾᏕᎾ ᎠᏥᎧᏉᏗ Dennis Sixkiller, ᎥᎿ ᎢᎬᏱᎢ ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ ᏗᎾᏓᏬᏍᎩ ᏧᏂᎳᏫᏍᏗᎢ ᏗᎦᏘᏱ ᎥᎿ ᏓᎵᏆ, ᎠᎴᏍᏊ ᏓᎪᏩᏘᏍᎪ ᎠᏂᎦᏲᏟ ᎧᎵ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᏙᏓᏆᏍᎬᎢ ᏓᏂᎳᏫᎬᎢ.
“ᎦᏲᏟᏊ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎬᏗ ᎦᎵᏣᏙᎲᏍᎪᎢ ᎥᏝ ᎥᏍᎩ ᏱᎾᏂᎢ ᏯᏁᏙᎰᎢ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ. ᎢᎦᏓᏃ ᏧᏂᎳᏫᏍᏗᎢ ᎤᏂᎪᏙᎢ ᏣᎳᎩ. ᏳᏓᎭᏃ ᎠᏯ ᏗᎩᎳᏫᏍᏗᎢ ᏙᏥᏃᎩᏍᎪᎢ, ᎠᏎᏍᎩᏂ ᎥᏝ ᏥᏲᏟ ᏥᎨᎲᎢ ᏥᏄᏍᏛᎢ ᎥᏝᏍᎩᏂ ᏱᏄᏍᏓ ᎪᎲᏴ ᏥᎩ.” 
ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗᎢ ᏴᏠᏯᏍᏗᎭ ᎤᎵᏍᎨᏗᏳ ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ ᏑᏓᎵᏗ, ᎾᏍᎩ ᎧᎵ ᎦᏬᏂᏍᎩ, ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎤᎵᏍᎨᏓ ᏱᏄᏅᎾ ᏂᎦᏓ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏁᎳ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ.

– TRANSLATED BY DAVID CRAWLER

About the Author
Chad Hunter has spent more than two decades in the newspaper industry as a reporter and editor in Arkansas, Oklahoma and his home state of Missouri. He began working for the Cherokee Phoenix in late  ...
chad-hunter@cherokee.org • 918-453-5269
Chad Hunter has spent more than two decades in the newspaper industry as a reporter and editor in Arkansas, Oklahoma and his home state of Missouri. He began working for the Cherokee Phoenix in late ...

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