Cherokee language center, speaker homes designs unveiled
An artist’s rendering shows the old Cherokee Casino Tahlequah remodeled as the Cherokee Nation’s Durbin Feeling Language Center. COURTESY
An artist’s rendering shows a Cherokee speaker home near the future Durbin Feeling Language Center in Tahlequah. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – Design plans for a centralized Cherokee language center and adjacent homes for speakers were unveiled Nov. 30 by the Cherokee Nation via its Facebook page.
The Durbin Feeling Language Center, named in honor of the late first-language speaker, will be located in the former Cherokee Casino Tahlequah building near the Tribal Complex.
“This center will include the (Cherokee Language) Master-Apprentice Program, the translation department and the (Cherokee) Immersion School all underneath one roof,” Howard Paden, language department executive director, said. “Also, built beside it is our first ever language village. This is where speakers will live side by side. This one day will also expand to our own language campus where speakers and students work side by side and live side by side.”
An artist’s rendering of the future Durbin Feeling Language Center shows an expanded, modified facility. It will include a cafeteria, gymnasium, sound booth and vault to store documents, Paden said.
Feeling, widely considered the greatest modern contributor to the preservation of the Cherokee language, died in August at age 74.
“We named this facility after Durbin Feeling because of the great contributions he made to save the Cherokee language,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “Durbin Feeling did more to save our language than anyone since Sequoyah.”
In 2019, the Tribal Council passed the Durbin Feeling Preservation Act to invest $16 million in the Cherokee language, $5 million of which is earmarked for the language hub.
“We are going to save this language,” Hoskin said. “We are going to do it not just because of what Durbin Feeling did, but because of the vision that he had, and we are going to carry that into the future.”
Five homes for Cherokee speakers will be built near the language center, CN officials said.
“It was important to Durbin Feeling that our language efforts be more than just classrooms and offices,” Hoskin said. “He really wanted a sense of community, and that’s what we’re trying to build here at these homes right next to the language center. Being next to the language center can give an opportunity for these Cherokee speakers to interact with staff, to interact with young people. I think the Cherokee language can really take root here in a way that Durbin Feeling thought was important.”
Feeling’s wife, Christine, said her husband “would be very excited about that village” of speakers.
“He was so passionate about the Cherokee language,” she said. “He worked all his life, you know, worked on it, to preserve it. The effort that Cherokee Nation has put into it, it excited him because he knew something was going to be done about it finally. That was his dream, just to carry on and don’t let it die.”
CN officials said Feeling wrote the Cherokee dictionary, added the syllabary on a word processor in the 1980s, developed hundreds of Cherokee language teaching materials and started the process to add the Cherokee language on Unicode, which today allows smartphones to offer the syllabary.
The CN, which has identified approximately 2,000 first-language speakers, already invests more than $6 million per year into its language efforts.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, filed a bill in Congress named after Feeling this year.
“I was proud to mark the 30th anniversary of the Native American Language Act by introducing the Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act of 2020,” Udall said. “This bill will hold the federal government accountable for its work to live up to the policies and principals set out three decades ago in the Native American Languages Act. Congress must continue to do its part to support the advancement of community driven language use and revitalization.”
The act would direct the president to review federal agencies’ compliance with requirements of the Native American Language Act, which was originally signed by President George H.W. Bush.
The update would also authorize a federal survey of Native language use and the unmet needs of language-revitalization programs every five years. The surveys would allow Native communities and Congress to improve targeting of federal resources for Native American languages.