4 graduate from Cherokee language program

BY KENLEA HENSON
Former Reporter
12/08/2017 12:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Principal Chief Bill John Baker, left, stands with Ronnie Duncan, Lisa O’Field, Larry Carney and Toney Owens at the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program graduation ceremony on Dec. 2 at the Armory Municipal Center in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Along with receiving certificates of completion, each graduate received a copper gorget and a Pendleton blanket. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Dec. 2, the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program graduated four students at a graduation ceremony in the Armory Municipal Center.

Larry Carney, of Tulsa; Ronnie Duncan, of Bell; Lisa O’Field, of Hulbert; and Toney Owens, of Rocky Mountain received a certificate of completion, copper gorget and Pendleton blanket.

Operated through the Cherokee Nation’s Community and Cultural Outreach, participants are taught the Cherokee language by master speakers Doris Shell, Cora Flute and Gary Vann. The program is geared towards teaching CN citizens to be proficient conversational Cherokee language speakers and teachers.

Howard Paden, CLMAP manager, said the program stemmed from a “need” for the language.

“This program gets people speaking our language again. You know, we seen a need for it because a lot of the (Cherokee) Immersion (Charter) School parents seen a need to not only push their kids to learn the language but to learn themselves and start having Cherokee speaking households,” Paden said.

Students spend two years and typically 40 hours a week learning the Cherokee language in a classroom from the master speakers. Students are also encouraged to visit with fluent Cherokee-speaking elders to practice and learn from them. However, to ensure individuals are able to dedicate the needed time to the program, they each receive a $10 an hour stipend.

“They learn a lot of Cherokee. From when they first walk into the classroom to probably two months they already learn about 5,000 words,” Paden said. “The first year is primarily learning as much as they can, and by the second year we expect them to start teaching. Of course they have a master speaker there that can assist them, but they begin to teach phrases to the next group that comes in. So every January we get a new group, so the people that are in their last year will begin teaching in January to the new group that we have coming in.”

Since its inception nearly three years ago, the program has graduated six students and is expected to graduate six more in 2018 and eight in 2019.

Gary Vann, CLMAP master speaker, said he’s seen an increase in applicants since the program’s first year.

“When we first started out there was only a handful of applicants, this past application process we saw 100 applications come in,” Vann said. “It makes me feel good because there are people out there that still want to learn our language and that are interested in speaking our language again, especially the younger generations.”

Owens, 30, said the program has influenced his life and set him on a path of teaching the Cherokee language.

“I’ve always wanted to learn Cherokee, and I heard about the program, and I couldn’t believe it was real. Now it kind of comes in to your everyday life you start to think about things different and naturally you start speaking Cherokee instead of English, so it just becomes your life, it becomes a part of who you are,” Owens said. “Since I will no longer be employed by the program I will have to find a form of income, but I will continue to pursue a teaching degree at Northeastern State University to hopefully teach Cherokee. My goal is to one day teach at the immersion school because it has the most chance of forming Cherokee speakers.”

Owens said he believes the program has helped him so much to become a proficient speaker that it’s the most effective way to acquire the language. He suggests the program to those who are interested in learning to speak the Cherokee language.

For more information, call 918-453-5445.

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