Paden honored with Seven Feathers Award for Language
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation’s Master-Apprentice Program Manager Howard Paden is being presented the Cherokee Phoenix Seven Feathers Award for Language on Nov. 23.
Known for being a “language warrior,” Paden encourages the use of the Cherokee language every chance he gets. The tribe’s Master-Apprentice Program pairs adult Cherokee students wanting to learn the language with master Cherokee speakers, usually elders. During two years of being immersed in the language, the students learn to speak, read and write the language.
This summer, Paden and MAP staff organized and hosted 13 community events in the CN to gather the signatures of first-language Cherokee speakers in an archival Cherokee Speaker Roll Book. Staff also traveled to communities and sought speakers in their homes and visited Cherokee communities in western North Carolina to gather signatures.
Regarding the Seven Feathers Award, Paden said he is glad an award for language is being included.
“I’m glad the language is getting recognized, but I’m more honored that we are giving awards out to folks that are trying to save our language,” he said.
He said he’s been interested in learning the language since he was a boy. As a boy, he “hung around elders” to listen to them speak Cherokee and took language classes in high school.
“My dad would try to teach us what he knew, which wasn’t a lot. Back then we didn’t have a lot of resources,” he said. “I had some neighbors down the road that I would pester (about the language).”
He said when he was younger he worked at a grocery store in Vian, and he would seek Cherokee elders who he could speak to in Cherokee.
“I would try to speak as much Cherokee as I could to the speakers. There were still people who shopped there back then who couldn’t speak English. I told the boss, ‘I want to learn how to check because some of the people don’t speak English,’” he said. “When I would see them come into the store, I would wait and then I would open up my cashier station to check them out. Then I would carry their groceries out for them. I learned to say ‘paper or plastic?’ I would say, ‘do you want paper or do you want something really soft?’ That’s how it translated.”
He said that’s when he started becoming more well-known in Vian as the “kid trying to learn Cherokee.”
Later, he took college classes to learn the language and assisted with a CN employee language program and community language classes. He’s also enrolled his three children in the tribe’s Cherokee Immersion Charter School.
“A lot of times us second-language learners would just get together to meet and pray and try to brainstorm what to do next,” he said. “At this time, I was working at Indian Child Welfare, and I wasn’t as deep in the trenches with them (second-language learners).”
Six years ago, he began to help develop the MAP to allow second-language learners to learn from master and elder speakers.
He attributes his dedication to help perpetuate and save the language to God, and his plan for people.
“I remember my dad and how he talked about how important the language was. Dad was just really encouraging, and my mother was really encouraging,” he said. “So, I remember having three goals. One of them was to have a relationship with God, another one was to have a family and the third one was to learn Cherokee. I don’t know that there’s ever been a time that I can recall that wasn’t something that I wanted to do. It hasn’t been easy, and still don’t have it all down. So, this award, I look around to all of the people who have done so much, it could go to a lot of different people.”