Cherokee Speakers Bureau helping keep language alive

BY KENLEA HENSON
Former Reporter
11/22/2017 08:00 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
A group of Cherokee language speakers sing “Amazing Grace” during the monthly Cherokee Speakers Bureau on Nov. 9 in the Tsa-La-Gi Community Meeting Room in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The CSB gathers on the second Thursday of each month for lunch, fellowship and to speak Cherokee. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation translator specialist Dennis Sixkiller writes a Cherokee word on a dry erase board during the Nov. 9 Cherokee Speakers Bureau in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The events are open to all, but only Cherokee is spoken. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Immersion Charter School students perform for the Cherokee Speakers Bureau on Nov. 9 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Cherokee Nation translator specialist Bonnie Kirk said students from different areas comet to the meetings to sit and listen to Cherokee speakers. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Fewer and fewer Cherokee people are speaking their native language, and the Cherokee Nation is losing elder speakers each year, so a monthly gathering of speakers is important for keeping the language alive, Cherokee Speakers Bureau officials said.

On Nov. 9, the CSB held a gathering for Cherokee speakers in the Tsa-La-Gi Community Meeting Room for lunch, fellowship and to speak Cherokee.

The CSB formed in 2007 to give Cherokee speakers an opportunity to speak the language with others. Ten years later, the CSB continues to be important for the language’s preservation.

“This event is very important because we don’t get to talk in Cherokee very much anymore because like places where we work not all co-workers can speak it. So this event allows us to all come together to speak the language,” Kathy Sierra, CN Cherokee Language Program assistant, said. “I come to speak Cherokee, to see all my friends and just be together, you know. One of my speaker friends works at (W.W.) Hastings (Hospital) so we don’t get to see each other and speak Cherokee until this event.”

Along with speaking Cherokee and having lunch, the event consists of storytelling, singing, community reports and word translation.

CN translator specialist Dennis Sixkiller, who serves as the meetings’ facilitator, said attending the CSB and talking with other Cherokee speakers has refreshed his memory of the language.

“I was kind of forgetting how to say some things in Cherokee. But from having a job (at Cherokee Nation) and being around people at the Speakers Bureau that speak Cherokee has really helped my language,” he said. “I just visited with a guy I grew up with, and a few years back I probably couldn’t talk to him in as much Cherokee as I did today, so it really has helped me out, and I really enjoy it.”

For CN translator specialist Bonnie Kirk keeping the language alive is “crucial.” She said not only is it important for the older speakers to keep speaking the language, but it’s also important to teach others so CSB meetings continue.

“I think right now it’s crucial to carry on the language that the Creator gave us. If we don’t, it’s going to be a lost art. We are fighting to keep that culture and teach our kids to speak Cherokee because if we don’t it’s going to be an end to a lot of our culture and to events like this,” she said. “This is our tenth year, and to this day we try to spread the word to different communities, and hopefully it will continue a long time because we really enjoy seeing each other once a month and speaking Cherokee with each other, and I hope that for the next generations, too.”

Although the CSB is designated for Cherokee speakers anyone is welcome to attend, but only Cherokee is spoken.

“We have a lot of students from different areas that just sit and listen, so everyone is welcome,” Kirk said.

The next CSB meeting will be held from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 14 in the same meeting room. For more information, call Roy Boney Jr. at 918-453-5487.

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