Cherokee Nation supports Durbin Feeling Native American Language Act

11/03/2020 02:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
The late Cherokee linguist Durbin Feeling, credited as being the tribe’s single-largest contributor to the Cherokee language since that of Sequoyah. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. on Oct. 30 announced support for the Durbin Feeling Native American Language Act of 2020, a bipartisan bill proposed by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on the 30th anniversary of the Native American Language Act, which was signed by President George H.W. Bush.

The act would direct the president to review federal agencies’ compliance with the Native American Language Act requirements and make recommendations to improve interagency coordination in support of Native American languages. It would also authorize a federal survey of Native language use and the unmet needs of language-revitalization programs every five years. The surveys would allow Native communities and Congress to improve targeting of federal resources for Native American languages.

“The Cherokee Nation is honored to strongly support the Durbin Feeling Native American Language Act of 2020,” Hoskin said. “Durbin Feeling was the largest contributor to the Cherokee language since Sequoyah. For decades, Durbin led the effort to not only save and preserve the Cherokee language, but breathe new life into the Cherokee language. He was a tireless advocate for Native language and revitalization efforts, and no one is more worthy of this honor than Durbin Feeling. His generosity to the Cherokee people and his unwavering commitment to Cherokee language perpetuation will be the foundation upon which we teach future generations to honor and carry on our traditions.”

Udall named the bill in honor of the late Durbin Feeling, a renowned CN citizen and linguist. Feeling was instrumental in having the Cherokee syllabary added to word-processing technology in the 1980s, and began the process of adding the Cherokee language on Unicode, which today allows smartphones to offer the syllabary. He also developed hundreds of Cherokee language teaching materials that remain in use by speakers. 

“Native languages hold within them the culture, history, and resiliency of their communities. Over the last 30 years, catalyzed by the Native American Languages Act, Congress has promoted the protection and revitalization of Native languages,” Udall said. “Throughout my congressional career, I have worked to support these language revitalization efforts. And, today, I am proud to mark this important anniversary by announcing a new bipartisan bill, the Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act of 2020, to hold the federal government accountable for its work to live up to the policies and principles set out in the Native American Languages Act over three decades ago. Congress must continue to do its part to support the advancement of community-driven Native language use and revitalization.”

The Native American Languages Act signed in 1990 introduced for the first time in U.S. history a law that formally rejected past policies that sought to suppress the use of Native languages and recognized the rights and freedoms of Natives to use their traditional languages.

“Native languages are integral to culture and identity. When the Native American Language Act or NALA was signed into law in 1990 – a bill my father worked on over 20 years ago – the purpose was to promote and protect the rights of Native people to use and maintain their Native languages,” Murkowski said. “Today, we continue to work to ensure that our federal agencies are meeting the expectations of that legislation. Our bill will ensure that policies and procedures are compliant with NALA, improve interagency coordination, authorize funding to help gain a greater understanding of Native languages, and more. I remain committed to maintaining and revitalizing the languages of Alaska’s Native peoples to help strengthen and empower their communities for generations to come.”

The bill is supported by the Joint National Committee for Languages, the National Council for Languages and International Studies, the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Education Association, the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs, and the CN.

Feeling, who died in August, also taught Cherokee at the universities of Oklahoma, Tulsa and California.

In 2019, through the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act, Hoskin named the Durbin Feeling Language Center in Feeling’s honor. The future language center will house all three of the tribe’s language programs, including its translation office, immersion school and Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program.


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