Rocky Mountain Community hosts Cherokee Speaker Roll signing
Tangy Acorn finishes placing a Cherokee speaker’s medallion on her father, Richard Acorn, during the Cherokee Speaker Roll book-signing event on July 16 at Rocky Mountain School. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Names of Cherokee speakers from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are also a part of the Cherokee Speaker Roll book, which was recently taken to the EBCI in North Carolina. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Larry Nofire signs the Cherokee Speaker Roll book on July 16 at Rocky Mountain School. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Larry Nofire signs his name to the Cherokee Speaker Roll book on July 16 at Rocky Mountain School. Nofire is a first-language Cherokee speaker. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
After signing the Cherokee Speaker Roll, first-language Cherokee speakers are presented medallions stamped with the image of Sequoyah. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
ROCKY MOUNTAIN – Cherokee speakers visited the Rocky Mountain School cafeteria on July 16 to sign a special book that’s being taken to Cherokee communities this summer.
The Cherokee Speaker Roll has been carried throughout the area and to the old Cherokee homelands of western North Carolina to allow first-language Cherokee speakers to sign it. Speakers sign the book, which is made with special archival paper and ink, in anticipation of it lasting 1,000 years.
First-language Cherokee speaker Virginia Hamby, 59, of Wauhillau, which is near Rocky Mountain, said when she heard about the Cherokee Speaker Roll she was “excited.”
“I think it’s an honor and privilege that they’re doing this to keep up with how many speakers that we have. Like we say, it’s (language) dying. We need to keep up with where they are and who we can go to if we need help learning the language,” she said.
She said she learned the language while living with her grandmother in Marble City.
“When I came home from school, she would say, ‘alright, you leave that white man talk on the porch. When you come to my house, you’re going to talk Cherokee.’ I never lost it,” she said. “I played softball. All of the people I played softball with they also spoke it, so we all spoke Cherokee.”
She said it was “special” for her to sign the roll.
“I wish they had done this a long time ago because I have relatives who I would like to see their names in that book,” she said. “I just thank the Cherokee Nation for doing this. It’s really important we get all of the speakers. There’s some that won’t come and sign who say, ‘I don’t need anything to say that I’m a speaker,’ but I’d like for everyone to come sign the book so that we know where they are. It’s not to say they talk Cherokee because they have that medallion, but I’d like to know where they are and how many we have left.”
After they sign the book, speakers receive medallions stamped with the image of Cherokee syllabary inventor Sequoyah. They are also treated to meal and have the opportunity to visit other Cherokee speakers attending.
Wearing his medallion, David Scott, 62, of Rocky Mountain, said he was cautious when he heard about the Cherokee Speaker Roll because he said the CN has started campaigns to save the language during the years and many were abandoned.
“I hope, with whatever numbers they come up with, I hope they realize the language is dying faster than they think it is, and to me, it’s the speakers, we’re the ones that hold the key,” he said. “You can educate all the teachers you want and get degrees and whatever, but to me it’s going to take using the ones that speak to keep the language going.”
He said the master-apprentice program, where second-language learners are paired with master Cherokee speakers, could work, but he is skeptical fluent Cherokee speakers are being produced with the methods the tribe is using to save the language.
“We must not be doing something right. There’s got to be a better method of teaching than what we’re doing. To me, that’s what I’m waiting for, to see if they come up with a method where they (students) can learn it faster. Maybe these young people might say, ‘if they can learn it that fast, than I can, too.”
Master Apprentice Program Manager Howard Paden said taking the roll to communities should give tribal leaders a better idea of how many speakers are in each community and their ages. The youngest Cherokee speaker in attendance at Rocky Mountain was 46 and the oldest was 86.
Paden said the effort should also tell CN leaders where language resources are needed.
He said he and his staff have been focused on visiting two communities a week this summer, but after the initial 13 communities are visited, he said an assessment will be made to determine what communities or areas need to be revisited to perhaps get more signatures.
He said about 100 speakers of 211 known speakers from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have signed the book and another trip will be made to North Carolina for more signatures.
Archie Flute, 54, of Bunch, said he drove to Rocky Mountain to sign the roll because the language is important to him, and he’s been teaching it to his children and grandson like his parents taught him. He is especially trying to teach the language to his 10-year-old grandson.
“That little boy, I used to keep him all of the time when he was a baby, and that was his first language too, Cherokee,” he said. “When he started school, he started losing his language. In the summertime I keep him and I tell him, ‘you’re going to have to pick it back up or I won’t have nobody to talk to.’”
He said he hopes more Cherokee people will “pick up” the language because he believes it is “really dying.”
Linda Hammer, 61, is originally from Greasy in Adair County, but has lived in Tahlequah for 27 years. She said she was glad to hear about the effort to honor first-language Cherokee speakers.
“Our language is or was dying, and I’m glad it’s picking back up,” she said. “My two younger daughters, I teach them, but my oldest one (daughter), her first language was Cherokee until she went to school. She understands every bit of it, but she’ll answer you back in English. She’s 43.”
She said her children’s paternal grandparents were full-blood, Cherokee speakers and that she asked them to speak to her children in Cherokee, but they would not.
She said she thought it was “neat” to sign the roll and receive a medallion signifying that she speaks Cherokee. She said she knows other Cherokee speakers who did not attend the signing in Rocky Mountain, and she plans to seek them out to encourage them to sign.
She said she understands how important it is for her to continue to speak Cherokee. “I’m glad God gave me this language, and I thank God that I can speak Cherokee.” Upcoming Project Events
Cherokee Speaker Roll Project events begin at 4 p.m. with an early-bird roll signing, and dinner is at 6 p.m. Other upcoming stops for the Cherokee Speaker Roll Project are the Jay Community Center on July 23, Stilwell High School on July 26, Kansas High School Cafeteria on July 30, Locust Grove Upper Elementary Cafeteria on Aug. 2, Lost City Community Center on Aug. 6 and the Cherokee County Fairgrounds in Tahlequah on Aug. 9.