Cherokee Nation collects Cherokee language data in communities
TAHLEQUAH – On Oct. 18, Cherokee Nation officials hosted the first Cherokee Nation Language Employee Speaker Appreciation Day at the Sequoyah High School’s “Place Where They Play” gymnasium for first-language Cherokee speakers and CN employees who are fluent.
Those who attended learned about what CN officials hope to accomplish with the Cherokee language. There were discussions about plans being implemented and how the employees can help by providing information about their respective communities.
The event comes after several CN Cherokee language program directors and employees thought to gather data several years ago about the number of fluent speakers living in CN communities.
Howard Paden, Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program manager, said he knows with the current language programs, the CN is not creating any first-language speakers anymore, and with the collected data, there can be a more accurate count of how many speakers live within each community.
“With this it allows us to find hot spots, threatened zones. It will allow us to have the ability to recruit future speakers as a resource to collect potential storytellers, potential volunteers, future employee pools, add to our head count for research, and that will also be information that we can put in grants for future funding opportunities. It will help us be able to find the people that we need to talk to for documenting language because we will have all of their names and information,” Paden said.
Ryan Mackey, CLMAP curriculum supervisor, said along with Paden’s effort to find Cherokee speakers in communities, they also want to create teachers who could be utilized as resources in communities.
“In our first couple of years we realized that we needed a more comprehensive plan at Cherokee Nation. We wrote a grant to Administration for Native Americans called Native Language and Community Coalition grant, and we received it as a $2 million grant over five years. We’re starting our third year of that grant. And in that grant we assembled the leaders from all the different Cherokee Nation language programs together to kind create a think tank to look forward into the future and see what we needed to do,” Mackey said.
Mackey said the speakers who work for the tribe are the “interface” between the community speakers and the CN language programs.
“Time and time again we’ve been reminded that the language lives in the communities of our Native speakers. So we need to go to those communities and visit with them and get to know them,” Mackey said.
Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd said a resolution was created two years ago during a Tri-Council (CN, United Keetoowah Band, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) meeting to create a First Language Cherokee Speakers Summit. He said after the needed data is collected the tribes could use it to write grants for each tribe’s language program. He also said a book is being created to document current speakers and will be archived.
The collected data so far shows the numbers of living speakers in each community and how many speakers who have died each month. As of Oct. 9 it was documented that there are more than 1,445 fluent speakers in the CN, which includes CN citizens and UKB citizens.