Barlow works to add Cherokee language at Walmart

BY KENLEA HENSON
Former Reporter
01/30/2018 08:00 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation citizen Brian Barlow holds a squash in a Walmart store in Tahlequah. Barlow is integrating the Cherokee language into the store by translating the produce section into Cherokee and placing Cherokee phonetics, community level phonetics and the syllabary on produce labels. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
The word for plums is written in the Cherokee language in the produce section of Walmart in Tahlequah. Cherokee Nation citizen Brian Barlow has worked with a Cherokee language specialist to translate Walmart’s produce into the Cherokee syllabary, phonetic and community level phonetic. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation citizen Brian Barlow stands next to a bank window that has words written in Cherokee on it. Barlow says the Cherokee language has become more and more important to him since being involved with the tribe more in the past several years. COURTESY
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation citizen Brian Barlow squats next to produce in the Walmart in Tahlequah. He is using a $10,000 grant to integrate the Cherokee language into the store’s produce section. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation citizen Brian Barlow sits at a desk with a computer showing types of produce in English, Cherokee phonetics, community level phonetics and the Cherokee syllabary. Barlow hopes to revitalize the Cherokee language by putting it Walmart so it can be used as a teaching tool. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation citizen Brian Barlow was awarded a $10,000 Dreamstarter grant in 2017 to make a difference in his community. Since then, he’s been working to integrate the Cherokee language into the town’s Walmart.

Growing up in the CN capital, Barlow said he’s seen less and less of the Cherokee language being used, especially among the youth. Through language classes in high school and tribal activities such as the CN Youth Council and “Remember the Removal” bicycle ride he said learning the Cherokee language has become important to him. So when he heard about the Dreamstarter grant he knew it would be the perfect opportunity to put forth his vision to engage more youth with the language.

His idea was to integrate the language into Tahlequah’s Walmart by translating the produce section into Cherokee and placing Cherokee phonetics, community level phonetics and the syllabary on produce labels.

“You can grow up in Tahlequah and not know any Cherokee, and I don’t think that should be acceptable. You should at least know some words,” Barlow said. “So the idea is to revitalize the language by putting it into the grocery store where like grandma can take grandbaby to the grocery store and use it as a teaching tool.”

He said using phonetics rather than just the syllabary simplifies it and make words easier to learn.

“Syllabary can be confusing if you don’t know how to read it. Syllabary is really cool. Don’t get me wrong. Sequoyah was a genius, but I just don’t think people have time to learn it. So putting the phonetics in would help the learning process,” Barlow said.

The Dreamstarter Grant is through Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills’ organization Running Strong for American Indian Youth. Each year, 10 American Indians under the age of 30 are awarded the grant to aid nonprofit projects that will benefit their community’s youth in some way.

Since receiving the grant, Barlow has worked with Cherokee language specialists John Ross and Roy Boney Jr. to get Walmart’s year-round produce translated into Cherokee. As of now, he is working with Walmart’s marketing and licensing department to get the produce labels to “code.”

If his idea is successful in Tahlequah, Barlow said he hopes to implement the Cherokee language in other Walmarts in other Cherokee communities such as Stilwell and Jay.

However, his vision isn’t stopping there. He also said working with a company like Walmart could open opportunities for other Native tribes to put their language in their local Walmart stores.

“I think it would help tribal communities across the U.S. Everyone has to eat. We all have to go to the store and get food, so what better way than to the put language where the food is,” he said.

Barlow said he hopes to have the Cherokee language on produce labels in Tahlequah’s Walmart by Thanksgiving.

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