Cherokee speakers learn to read, write using Cherokee Bible
Cherokee Nation citizen Judge Fourkiller, right, consults with Cherokee speaker and United Keetoowah Band citizen George Bunch during a weekly Cherokee language class on Feb. 20 at Rock Fence Baptist Church near Stilwell. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen and language instructor Lawrence Panther, standing, helps CN citizen Lois Sevenstar Dash with reading and writing the Cherokee language on Feb. 20 at Rock Fence Baptist Church near Stilwell. Dash, a fluent speaker, said she is taking the class to learn how to read the Cherokee Bible. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
“The Cherokee New Testament Parallel Cherokee and English” Bible contains New Testament books translated in Cherokee syllabary. The Bible is being used as a textbook for fluent speakers who are learning to read and write Cherokee at Rock Fence Baptist Church near Stilwell. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
A paper with Cherokee syllabary and their sounds shows how attendees of a weekly Cherokee class at the Rock Fence Baptist Church is learning to read and write in the language. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
STILWELL – To help themselves learn how to read and write Cherokee and to learn the word of God simultaneously, Rock Fence Baptist Church and community members decided to create a weekly class.
Cherokee Nation citizen and pastor Judge Fourkiller said he’s seen a lot of improvement since the class’ inception on Jan. 14, 2019. There are about a dozen students who attend.
“Before, I’ve had a few Cherokee classes but nothing ever clicked,” Fourkiller said. “Now it does. I can almost read. I know a lot of the syllabary, more than I ever knew before. Everybody’s caught onto it. Everybody’s starting to know how to read and know how to write.”
The idea for the class started when Fourkiller noticed that a lot of the church elders couldn’t understand him when he preached in English.
“But the Lord impressed on my heart that there had to be some way that we could get into the Gospel together,” he said. “What can I do to help with the ministry and understanding the word of God, and he put this on my heart.”
As a textbook, they began using “The Cherokee New Testament Parallel Cherokee and English” Bible that contains the New Testament written in English and translated in the Cherokee syllabary.
“I was raised in a fluent Cherokee family, all they talked was Cherokee, but after I started going to school it kind of went away,” Fourkiller said. “But it was still in my head. And when the Lord called me to pastor here, I was around all the fluent speakers here and it started coming back. It’s just been more than I ever thought it could be. I thought, we’re going to get this Cherokee-English Bible and that’s going to be our textbook.”
Fourkiller said they started with everyone translating their favorite Bible verses and it took off from there.
“I wanted to learn how to read the Cherokee Bible,” United Keetoowah Band citizen George Bunch said. “I could read a little bit, but not very much. I went to class before…at the Greasy Community Building. It gave me experience. But here this really helped me. I can speak Cherokee, but what I’m interested in is reading the Cherokee Bible.”
CN citizen Lois Sevenstar Dash, a fluent Cherokee speaker, had studied reading and writing Cherokee about three years prior to the class. “Early on I learned the fact that it’s not easy. It’s not easy to learn, to speak it and to write it. I’m having a whole lot of fun doing this. I have learned a lot more about what’s in the Bible.,”
She added that different communities such as Rock Fence, Belfonte and Cherry Tree all have different dialects when speaking Cherokee and are mindful of that as they learn.
CN citizen and certified Cherokee language instructor Lawrence Panther, who joined the class six months after it began, is helping students with the language’s dialects and grammar.
“I noticed they were reading syllabary to syllabary, and it was causing some problems to understand the reading and writing,” Panther said. “They were not aware reading and writing requires dropping the vowels and changing the consonants. Afterward, it made better sense to them. I was actually surprised how much they knew when I got here. I think having a speaker and reader helped them.”
Panther said he sees moments when students are accomplished in their skills, being able to read the syllabary off a poster or wherever they see it.
“I remember once instance when the pastor was looking at a poster written in syllables, he said ‘hey I can read that.’ It sure made me feel good. I’m glad they’re beginning to get a grasp of reading and writing. I also noticed they write down what they’re reading, that helps with their skills,” he said.
Classes are Thursday nights from 6:30-8:00 p.m. at Rock Fence Baptist Church located south of Stilwell off Highway 59 on Rock Fence Road.