Cherokee Nation creates department for Cherokee language preservation

BY STAFF REPORTS
07/31/2020 08:30 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Howard Paden
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Wyman Kirk
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Jeromie Hammer
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation has established a language department to oversee its Cherokee Immersion School, team of translators and Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program, according to a July 27 press release.

The department will focus on language preservation, perpetuation and generating more proficient second-language Cherokee speakers, the release states.

Howard Paden, a Sequoyah County native and the tribe’s CLMAP manager, has been named as the language department’s executive director, according to the release. It also states that Wyman Kirk has been named immersion school administrator, while Jeromie Hammer has been named its principal.

All three are CN citizens and have been learning the language for at least two decades, the release states. 

“In order to save and perpetuate our Cherokee language, it is essential for our Cherokee language programs to be together in one department and in one location so that we can share resources, share the Cherokee language and work together on the same objective, which is making sure our language not online survives, but thrives,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “These leaders have been chosen because they not only speak Cherokee, but because they have a wealth of Cherokee culture and historical knowledge that will serve our speakers and language learners well. These programs will soon all be housed in the new Durbin Feeling Language Center.” 

According to the release, Paden started at the CN in 2003 in Indian Child Welfare, where he worked at family reunification. While there, the release states, he began language initiatives such as employee language classes, family cultural and language packets and a Cherokee cultural camp for foster families.

According to the release, in 2014 he was tasked to develop the CLMAP, an adult Cherokee language immersion program pairing novice learners with master-level, fluent Cherokee speakers. He designed it, the release states, based on experiences in a Spanish program he and his wife encountered while serving as missionaries in Bolivia and attending the Universidad de Idiomas, or the University of Languages.

“Unfortunately, we’re losing upwards of a hundred fluent Cherokee speakers a year,” Paden said. “We recently lost seven alone in one month, three of them from COVID-19. We’re at a crossroads, so we must make language our priority and get our citizens behind this critical effort to continue saving our language. I believe the Cherokee Nation and Chief Hoskin are putting all of the pieces into place to help us teach new generations of Cherokee speakers how to use and pass along this beautiful tradition.” 

As immersion school administrator, the release states, Kirk is responsible for the development, implementation, supervision and evaluation of educational and student services. 

According to the release, Kirk was raised in Marble City but resides in Cherokee County with his wife and two sons. As a child, the release states, he grew up in a Cherokee language-speaking home, which influenced his passion for teaching and preserving the language. 

Kirk graduated from Northeastern State University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in English. He also received a master’s degree in cultural anthropology from Indiana University in Bloomington. According to the release, he has more than 25 years of experience in Cherokee history and language curriculum development as a coordinator for strategic intelligence, assistant professor, lecturer, cultural specialist and independent contractor. He has also worked as an instructor for Cherokee language courses in the Department of Cherokee and Indigenous Studies at NSU, the release states. 

“I am humbled and honored at the opportunity to be involved in this very meaningful language work at the immersion school,” Kirk said. “Chief Hoskin has proven that language is a priority and knowing that this won’t be just ‘me’ or just immersion (school) doing this, but rather the full weight and resources of the Cherokee Nation, all of us together, making this work. Being part of that, I am definitely looking forward to. First and foremost, we want to bring a Cherokee-centric focus to the school. This goes beyond language into something else, something deeper. The idea for the school has always been to develop our children into Cherokees. We want them to embody our behaviors, our ways of thinking and doing, and to do so with our language as the foundation.” 

According to the release, Hammer, of Tahlequah, has served as an immersion school coach and administrator since 2009. He has a bachelor’s degree in health and human performance and a master’s degree in education administration from NSU. 

In September, Hoskin announced the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act, which allows the tribe to make the largest investment into its language programs, according to the release. It also states the act transferred Cherokee Nation Businesses’ former Cherokee Casino-Tahlequah building to the CN for the Durbin Feeling Language Center, named in honor of first-language speaker Durbin Feeling. Feeling wrote the Cherokee dictionary and is the single-largest contributor to the Cherokee language since Sequoyah, the release states.

The act included $5 million from CNB dividends to renovate and expand the language center, which will house all Cherokee language departments. Another $1.5 million is included for operational costs. 

The tribe’s Cherokee language programs consist of a translation office, community and online language classes, the CLMAP, language technology and the immersion school. According to the release, the programs’ goal is to preserve and grow the language in spoken and written forms. 

For information, visit https://language.cherokee.org/.

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