Eastern Cherokees learning their language

BY CHAD HUNTER
Reporter
09/12/2019 04:00 PM
Audio Clip
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians citizen Matthew Tooni, right, an intern learning the Cherokee language, listens to fluent speaker George Byrd of the Cherokee Nation on March 27 in Cherokee, North Carolina. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
CHEROKEE, N.C. – Eastern Cherokees are following in Oklahoma Cherokees’ footsteps by training new language speakers with hope that students one day become the teachers.

“I think within two years we will have fluent speakers,” Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians citizen Myrtle Driver said.

The tribe’s Cherokee Adult Language Learners program, or CALL, was created in tribe’s capital. One of the four program interns, Matthew Tooni, 30, said learning the language is challenging.

“What I’m finding is there are so many ways to say one specific thing,” he said. “Cherokee was something my grandparents spoke. They were fluent in the language. When I got older, I just decided to take it up. It’s a vital and necessary commodity to who we are as a people.”

Micah Swimmer, New Kituwah Academy adult language coordinator, said the EBCI as of March 28 had 213 fluent Cherokee speakers. The Cherokee Nation, which has identified 2,000-plus fluent speakers, has been cultivating more speakers for the past several years via its Cherokee Language Master/Apprentice Program. As part of their learning, students in the two-year program spend “extended time with master Cherokee speakers” with hopes of eventually teaching the language.

“With such a small percentage of tribal citizens speaking ᏣᎳᎩ (Cherokee), a program that increases the population of Cherokee speakers on an exponential level is greatly needed,” a CN news release states. “ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎠᏂᏫᏒᏍᎩ (Cherokee Language Master/Apprentice Program) is achieving that goal.”

The CN is also enticing students to become certified language speakers via full-ride scholarships at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Before the EBCI’s language-learning program was developed, Swimmer and others visited the CN for inspiration.

“I called out to Oklahoma and asked them about this idea,” Swimmer said. “They had just finished (a language program). It was very special to go all the way there, see what they do and share our ideas.”

The EBCI’s language program launched in July 2018 with four students.

“Once we got it started, we went full into it,” Swimmer said. “They’re growing. They’re learning to speak the language. They’re using it not just in the classroom but outside of here. That’s what we want. They’re going to teach the language when they’re done.”

There is also a push to record the tribe’s fluent speakers.

“If it’s all just written down, you lose the flow,” Swimmer said. “The flow of the language is what you need if you want to put it back together. Video is important. You can see their facial expressions, their hand gestures.”
ᏣᎳᎩ

ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ, ᎦᏯᎴᏂᎢ. – ᏗᎧᎸᎬ ᎠᏁᎯ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᏓᏂᏍᏓᏩᏕᎩ ᎣᎦᎵᎰᎹ ᎠᏁᎯ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᏚᎾᎳᏏᏅ ᎠᏂᏍᏓᏩᏕᎩ ᏓᏁᏲᎲᏍᎩ ᎠᏂᏤ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎾᎿ ᎤᏚᎩ ᎤᏅᎭ ᏗᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ ᏌᏊ ᎢᎦ ᏗᎾᏕᏲᎲᏍᎩ ᏭᎾᏟᎶᎯᏍᏗᎢ.

“ᎦᏓᏅᏖᏍᎬ ᎾᎿ ᏔᎵ ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎢᎪᎯᏓ ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᏱᏗᎨᏲᏂ ᎧᎵ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᏱᎾᎾᎵᏍᏓ,” ᏗᎧᎸᎬ ᎠᏁᎯ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ ᎠᏁᎲ ᎨᎳ Myrtle Driver ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ.

ᎾᎿ ᎠᏂᎳᏍᏓᎸ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᏧᎾᏔᏂ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎠᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᏙᏢᎯ, ᎠᎴ ᏫᏓᏟᏃᎮᏗ, ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᏙᏢᏅ ᎠᏂᎳᏍᏓᏢ ᎠᏰᎵ ᏗᏂᎳᏫᎩ.

ᏌᏊᏃ ᎾᎿ ᏅᎩ ᎢᏳᎾᏛᏗ ᎨᏒ ᎤᏂᎲ ᎠᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ, Matthew Tooni, 30 ᎢᏳᏕᏘᏴᏓ, ᎠᏗᏍᎬ ᏓᏕᎶᏆᏍᎬ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎢᎦ ᎠᎦᏎᏍᏙᏗ.

“ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᏥᏩᏘᏍᎬ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᎸᏍᎩ ᎢᏳᏓᎴ ᎢᎦᏪᏍᏗ ᎾᎿ ᏌᏊ ᎧᏁᎢᏍᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ. ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎬ ᎡᏚᏓ ᎠᎴ ᎡᎵᏏ. ᎧᎵᏃ ᎠᏃᎵᎬᎢ ᏣᎳᎩ. ᎠᏆᏛᏏᏌᏂᏃ, ᏓᏊᎪᏔᏅ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᏣᎳᎩ. ᏭᎵᏍᎨᏗᏴ ᎠᎴ ᎠᏎ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᎿ ᎣᏥᏴᏫ ᎨᏒᎢ.”

Micah Swimmer, ᎢᏤ ᎩᏚᏩ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᏧᎾᏔᏂ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᏗᎫᎪᏔᏂᏙᎯ, ᎠᏗᏍᎬ ᎾᏍᎩ EBCI ᎠᏅᏱ ᏥᎧᎸ 28, ᎤᏃᏪᎸ 213 ᎾᏂᎥ ᎧᎵ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ. ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ, ᎾᏍᎩ ᏚᏂᏩᏛᎲ ᎠᏂᏩᏗᏍᎬ 2,000 ᎠᎴ ᏳᏂᎪᏓ ᎧᎵ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ, ᏃᎴ ᏚᏂᏲᎲ ᎤᏂᎪᏛ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎾᎿ ᎢᎸᏍᎩ ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏓ Ꮟ ᎾᎿ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎾᎿ Master/Apprentice Program. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎠᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎬ, ᏗᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ ᏔᎵ ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎤᎾᏙᏢᏒ ᎤᏁᏙᎴ “ᎤᏂᏅᎯᏛ ᎠᏟᎶᎥ ᎾᎿ ᎧᎵ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ” ᎤᏚᎩ ᎬᏗ ᎢᎸᏢ ᎢᏴ ᏧᎾᏕᏲᏗᎢ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ.

“ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏂᎦᏲᏟ ᎠᏂᎳᏍᏓᏢ ᎠᏁᎳ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᏣᎳᎩ, ᎾᎿ ᎢᎬᏩᎾᏛᏗ ᎨᏒ ᎤᏂᎪᏙᎯᏍᏗ ᎠᏁᎲ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎾᎿ ᎪᏪᎶᏗ ᎬᏟᎶᏍᏙᏗ ᏙᎯᏳ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎠᏁᎲᎢ ᎠᎴ ᎢᎩᏂᎬᎦ,” ᎾᎿ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎧᏃᎮᏍᎬᎢ. “ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎠᏂᏫᏒᏍᎩ (ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ Master/Apprentice ᎢᏯᎾᏛᏁᎯ) ᎾᏍᎩ ᎾᎾᏛᏁᎰ ᎠᏟᎶᎥᎢ.”

ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᏓᏂᏂᎳᏕ ᏗᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ ᏧᏂᏁᏍᏗ ᎪᏪᎵ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ via ᎧᎵ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏙᏗ ᎾᎿ ᎤᏴᏢᎢ ᎧᎸᎬ ᎢᏗᏢ ᏍᎦᏚᎩ ᎦᎸᎳᏗ ᏗᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗᎢ ᏓᎵᏆ, ᎣᎦᎵᎰᎹ.

ᏏᏃ EBCI’s ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᏄᏙᏢᏒᎾ ᏥᎨᏒ, Swimmer ᎠᎴ ᎠᏂᏐᎢ ᏚᏂᏩᏛᎯᏙᎴ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎾᎿ ᎠᏓᎦᎵᏍᏓᏗᏍᎩ.

“ᏩᏆᏟᏃᎮᏢ ᎣᎦᎵᎰᎹ ᎠᎴ ᎦᏥᏯᏛᏛᏅ ᎯᎠ ᎠᎾᏓᏅᏖᏍᎬ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬ Swimmer. “ᎩᎳ ᎤᏂᏍᏆᏛ ᎨᏒ (ᎾᏍᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᏓ ᎢᏳᎾᏛᏗ). ᎢᎦ ᎤᏍᏆᏂᎪᏛ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏪᏓᏍᏗᎢ, ᎠᎪᏩᏛᏗ ᎾᎾᏛᏁᎲ ᎠᎴ ᎠᏰᏟ ᎢᎩᏂᏗᏍᏓ ᎢᎾᏓᏅᏖᏍᎬᎢ.”

ᎾᏍᎩ EBCI’S ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎢᏳᎾᏛᏗᎢ ᎤᏓᎴᏅᎲ ᎦᏰᏉᏂ 2018 ᎤᏕᏘᏴᏌᏗᏒ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏅᎩ ᏗᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ.

“ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎣᎦᎵᎰᎹ ᏩᏩᏟᏃᎮᏢ ᎠᎴ ᎦᏥᏯᏛᏛᏅ ᎾᏁᎵᏍᎬ ᎯᎠ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ Swimmer. “ᎨᎳᏊ ᎤᏂᏍᏆᏛ ᎨᏒ (ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎤᎬᏩᏟ ᏓᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎬᎢ.) ᎢᎦ ᎣᏍᏓ ᎤᏓᏤᏟᏓ ᎨᏒ ᏬᎨᏙᎸ ᏓᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎬ, ᎣᎩᎪᎲ ᎾᎾᏛᏁᎲ ᎠᎴ ᎪᏂᏃᎯᏎᎸ ᏄᏍᏛ ᎠᏂᎦᏔᎲᎢ ᎠᎴ ᎣᏥᎦᏔᎲᎢ.”

ᎯᎠ EBCI’s ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎤᎬᏩᏟ ᎤᏂᎲ ᎤᏓᎴᏅᎲ July 2018 ᎾᎿ ᏅᎩ ᏗᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ ᎨᏒᎢ.

“ᏃᏊᏃ ᎣᎦᎴᏅᎯ, ᎧᎵ ᎣᎦᎴᏅᎲᎢ, ᎠᏗᏍᎬ ᎠᏓᏬᏍᎩ. “ᏓᎾᏛᏍᎩ. ᎠᎾᏕᎶᏆᎢ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎤᏂᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗᎢ. ᎠᏅᏗᎢ ᎠᏂᏬᏂ ᏣᎳᎩ Ꮭ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗᏊ ᎢᎦ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏊ ᎠᏁᏙᎲᎢ. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎢᎦᏚᎵᎭ. ᏙᏛᎾᏕᏲᏂ ᎾᎿ ᎠᏂᏍᏆᏛ ᎤᏅᏌ.”

ᎾᎴᏍᏊ ᎠᏂᏃᎮᎯ ᎧᎵ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᏧᏂᏂᏴᎡᏗ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎬᎢ.
“ᎢᏳᏃ ᏂᎦᏓ ᏂᎪᏪᎸᎾ ᏱᎩ, ᎢᎩᏲᎱᏎ ᎧᎵ ᎢᎦᏪᏍᏗ ᏗᎧᏁᎢᏍᏗ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬ Swimmer. “ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎢᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎬ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎢᎩᏂᎬᎦ, ᎾᎿ ᎠᏛᎪᏗ ᎤᏚᎵᏓ. ᏱᏛᏟᎶᏍᏗ ᎣᏍᏓ ᎠᎪᏩᏛᏗ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎬ ᎠᎰᎵ, ᎠᎴ ᏧᏃᏰᏂ.”

– TRANSLATED BY ANNA SIXKILLER

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