CHEROKEE TRANSLATORS: Curiosity leads Feeling to Cherokee literacy
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation translation specialist Durbin Feeling said curiosity led to his learning to read and write the Cherokee language.
“I learned to read (Cherokee) when I was 12 years old. I learned that while watching my dad always reading his testament,” Feeling said. “One day when I was playing around I got curious and stood by him, and what he would do is take his pen out and guide me while he was reading.”
Feeling said eventually he picked out short words to read.
“Maybe I would read about two syllables or something like that and the next syllable I may not know, so I went to the back of the testament where there was a pronunciation guide…I would go back and forth like that. It’s kind of self-taught I guess,” he said.
Becoming literate in the language eventually led Feeling to the CN, where he’s worked off and on for 30 years. He said he initially worked in the translation department. Today, he still translates, but with better technology.
He said he just finished making 12,000 Cherokee words available on Google and that his work is compatible with Apple’s iPhone and Droid smartphones.
“Much of the things can be written in Cherokee in Google. You can also text and email in Cherokee,” he said.
Feeling said the language has progressed in the past decade because of technology and the tribe’s Cherokee Language Immersion School.
“It’s quite a ways in the last maybe 10 years I should say because I think the best thing that has happened so far is the immersion. Even though the kids aren’t picking up the words that well yet,” he said.
He said immersion students are slowly learning the language because it is complex.
“So it’s kind of challenging, and I think some of those things are the things that the kids are slow in picking up, but hopefully they will.”
Feeling said there are many things he’s proud to be associated with, such as writing books, helping create the Cherokee dictionary and teaching at Northeastern State University, but he’s also proud of his translation work.
Translating the language, he said, is how one becomes immersed in the language and that’s when one can really “know” the language.
“A person can speak, but until they get into translation and become familiar with the parts of speech and the morphology and all the other things that go into learning a language, the linguistic part, that’s when a person will really have learned their language,” he said. “You got to do your own work. We shouldn’t look at it negative. We have a guy who is a student at Northeastern. He was 16 years old when he first came to the conference. He was already studying on his own. He taught the syllabary to himself. He could read, but he couldn’t understand what he was reading.”
Feeling said when he came to the CN in 1976 he was teaching in communities and that students needed learning materials then and still do.
“I realized that the students need other things, you know learning materials and things. I started doing what the students needed and kind of neglected the teaching part…The boss that I had said ‘you got to be out there teaching. That’s why I hired you. Don’t be sitting around writing things,’ But that’s exactly what they need. We need a lot of research even today in Cherokee. There are documents and literature out there that hasn’t even been touched at all.”
ᏓᎵᏆ, ᎣᎦᎵᎰᎹ.----- ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᏗᏁᎶᏗᏍᎩ ᎠᎦᏔᎯ Durbin Feeling ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ ᎠᏍᏆᏂᎪᏍᎬ ᎤᏘᏅᏎ ᎤᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᏧᎪᎵᏰᏗ ᎠᎴ ᏧᏬᏪᎶᏗ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ.
“ᎠᏆᏕᎶᏆᎥ ᏗᎩᎪᎵᏰᏗ (ᏗᏣᎳᎩ) ᎾᏍᎩ ᏔᎳᏚ ᏯᏆᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᏥᎨᏒ. ᎠᏆᏕᎶᏆᎥ ᎾᎿ ᏥᎦᏙᏍᏛ ᎡᏙᏓ ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᏓᎪᎵᏰᏍᎬ ᎪᏪᎵ ᏗᎦᎸᏉᏗ,” ᎤᏛᏅ Feeling. “ᏌᏊ ᎢᎦ ᏕᎦᏁᎶᎲᏍᎬ ᎠᎩᏍᏆᏂᎪᏒ ᎠᎴ ᎾᎥ ᏩᏆᎴᏅ, ᎠᎴ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᎾᏛᏁᎲ ᏗᎪᏪᎶᏗ ᎠᏱᏍᎬ ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᎬᏗ ᎠᏎᎯᎲ ᎠᎪᎵᏰᏍᎬᎢ.”
Feeling ᎤᏛᏅ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᎴᏅᎮ ᏔᎵᎭ ᎢᏗᎧᏁᎢᏍᏗ ᏓᎪᎵᏰᏍᎬᎢ.
“ᎠᏎᏱᏃ ᏔᎵᎭ ᎢᏗᎧᏕᎢᏍᏗ ᏥᎪᎵᏰᏍᎬ ᏃᏊᏃ ᏦᎢᏁ ᎧᏁᎢᏍᏗ ᏬᏟᎢᎶᏝ Ꮭ ᏯᏆᏅᏖ, ᏃᏊᏃ ᎣᏂ ᎤᎦᏅᏓᏛ ᎦᎸᏉᏗ ᎪᏪᎵ ᏫᏥᎪᎵᏰᏍᎬ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏚᏃᏴᎬ ᎠᏓᏕᏲᎲᏍᎩ ᏥᏕᎪᏪᎳ….. ᎾᎿ ᏫᎨᏙᎲ ᎠᎴ ᎢᏥᎪᎵᏰᏍᎪᎢ. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏂᎦᏛᏁᎲ ᎠᏋᏌ ᏓᏆᏓᏕᏲᏅ ᏗᎩᎪᎵᏰᏗ ᎨᎵᎠ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬ.
ᎣᏍᏓ ᏗᎪᎵᏰᏍᎦ ᎠᎴ ᏗᎪᏪᎵᏍᎩ ᏄᎵᏍᏔᎾ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᏘᏃᎸ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ, ᎾᎿᏃ ᏚᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎳ ᏦᏍᎪᎯ ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎠᏎᏃ ᎢᏴᏓᎭ ᎤᏣᏘᏂ ᏚᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎵᏙᎸᎢ. ᏃᏊᏃ ᏥᎩ ᏧᎾᏁᎶᏙᏗ ᎤᎾᏓᏢᎬ ᏚᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎰ, ᎠᏎᏃ ᎬᏗᏍᎪ ᎪᎯ ᎢᏤ ᎤᏃᎷᏩᏛᎲᎾᎢ.
ᎤᏛᏅ ᎨᎳᏊ ᎤᏍᏆᏓ ᎪᏢᏍᎬ ᏔᎳᏚ ᏯᎦᏴᎵ ᎢᎦ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏗᎧᏁᎢᏍᏗ ᎾᎿ ᎫᎦᎵ ᏧᏅᏙᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎯᎠ ᏂᏚᏩᏁᎸ ᏗᏙᎵᎩ ᏒᎦᏔ iᏗᏟᏃᎮᏗ ᎠᎴ Droid ᏌᎹᏗ ᏗᏟᏃᎮᏗ.
“ᎤᎪᏛ ᏧᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᎡᎵᏊ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎪᏪᎶᏙᏗ ᎾᎿ ᎫᎦᎵᎢ. ᎠᎴᏗᏍᏊ ᏖᎦᏍᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎢᎺᎵ ᎢᎦᎬᏁᏗ ᏣᎳᎩᎭᎢ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ.
Feeling ᎠᏗᏍᎬ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎤᎪᏓ ᎤᏟᎢᎸᏓ ᎠᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎢᏗᏝ ᎤᎬᏩᏟ ᎨᏒ ᏍᎪᎯ ᎾᏕᏘᏯ ᏂᏓᎬᏩᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᎢᏤ ᎬᏔᏂᏓᏍᏗ ᎠᏃᎷᏩᏗᏍᎬ ᎾᎿ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎠᎴ ᏧᎾᏍᏗ ᏗᏂᏲᏟ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗᎢ.
“ᎡᎳᏪᎢ ᎨᏒ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏍᎪᎯ ᎢᎸᏢ ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎨᎵ ᎠᏎᏃ ᎣᏍᏓ ᏄᎵᏍᏔᎾ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᏧᎵᏍᏚᎢᏒ. ᏙᎯᏳᏃ Ꮭ ᎣᏍᏓ ᎤᎾᏕᎶᏆᎥ ᏱᎩ ᏃᏊ ᎨᏒᎢ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬ.
ᏣᎳᎩ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᏗᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ ᎤᏍᎦᏃᎵ ᎠᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎪ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ
ᏂᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᎡᎵ ᎠᏍᏓᏯ ᎠᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗᎢ.
“ᎡᎵᏃ ᎠᎦᏎᏍᏙ ᎠᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗᎢ, ᎠᎴᏃ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏄᏍᏛ ᎤᏂᏍᏓᏲᎯᏎᎰ ᎨᎳᏊᏴ ᎤᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ, ᎠᏉᎯᏳᏃ ᏛᎾᏕᎶᏆᎢ.”
Feeling ᎤᏛᏅ ᎤᎪᏗ ᏧᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᎤᏪᎳᏗᏙᎳ ᎾᎾᏛᏁᎲ ᏚᏂᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎲ ᎠᎵᎮᎵᎪ ᏄᏛᏁᎸ, ᏯᏛᎾ ᎪᏪᎵ ᏓᏃᏪᎵᏍᎬᎢ, ᎤᎵᏍᏕᎸᎭ, ᎤᏬᏢᏅ ᎤᎪᏓ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏗᎧᏁᎢᏍᏗ ᏗᎪᏪᎳ ᎠᎴ ᏓᏕᏲᎲᏍᎪ ᎤᏴᏢᎢᏗᏢ ᏍᎦᏚᎩ ᏩᎦᎸᎳᏗᏴ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ, ᏏᏊᏃ ᎠᎵᎮᎵᎪ ᏧᎾᏁᎶᏙᏗ ᏚᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎲ.
ᎠᏁᎶᏗᏍᎪ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ, ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ, ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᎾᏛᏁᎲ ᎧᎵᏬ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎠᏓᏅᏖᏍᎪ ᏃᎴᏍᏊ “ᎪᎵᎪᎢ” ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ.
“ᎠᏏᏴᏫ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏱᎦᏬᏂᎯ, ᎠᏎᏃ ᎬᏂ ᎠᏁᎶᏙᏗ ᏳᏟᎵᎶᏝ ᎾᎿᏂ ᏗᎬᏙᏗ ᎨᏐ ᏂᎦᏓ ᏂᏕᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎬ ᏗᎧᏁᏍᏗ ᏂᎦᏓ ᏗᏙᎵᎩ ᎨᏒ ᏱᎪᏪᎳᏅ ᏣᎳᎩᎭ ᏚᏳᎪᏛ, ᎾᏍᎩ ᏧᎦᏎᏍᏔᏅ ᏧᏕᎶᏆᎥ, ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᏳᏭᏟᎢᎶᏝ ᏃᏊ ᎤᏕᎶᏆᎥ ᏱᎩ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ. “ ᎠᏎᏃ ᏨᏌ ᎢᏣᏛᏗ. ᏝᏃ ᏫᏓᎧᏅᏓ ᏱᎩ Ꮭ ᏱᏂᎦᎦᏛᎦ ᎡᎵᏍᏗ ᏱᎩ. ᎠᏍᎦᏯ ᏓᏕᎶᏆᎠ ᏩᎦᎸᎳᏗᏴ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ. ᏓᎳᏚ ᎢᏳᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎨᏎ ᎢᎬᏱ ᎤᏪᏙᎳ ᏓᎾᏠᏍᎬᎢ. ᎦᏳᎳᏃ ᎤᎴᏅᏓ ᎨᏒ ᏚᎦᏎᏍᏛ ᏣᎳᎩ. ᎤᏩᏌ ᏚᏓᏕᏲᏁ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏗᎪᎵᏰᏙᏗ, ᎡᎵᏊ ᎠᎪᎵᏰᏍᎬ, ᎠᏎᏍᎩᏂ Ꮭ ᏳᏅᏖ ᏳᎪᎵᏰ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᎠᎪᎵᏰᏍᎬᎢ.”
Feeling ᎤᏛᏅ ᏧᎷᏨ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎾᎿ ᏐᏁᎳᏚ ᎢᏯᎦᏴᎵ ᎦᎵᏆᏍᎪ ᏑᏓᎵ ᎤᏕᏘᏴᏌᏗᏍᏒ ᏓᏕᏲᎲᏍᎬ ᏍᎦᏚᎩ ᏚᏙᏢᏒ ᎠᎴ ᏗᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ ᏚᏂᏂᎬᎬ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏙᏗ ᏗᎪᏪᎵ ᎾᎯᏳ ᏥᎨᏒ ᎠᎴ ᏃᏊ ᏥᎩ ᎤᏠᏯ.
“ᎠᏆᏕᎶᎰᏒ ᎾᎿ ᏗᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ ᏄᏓᎴ ᎪᎱᏍᏗ ᎤᏂᏂᎬᎬ, ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏙᏗ ᎠᎴ ᏧᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᎬᏔᏂᏓᏍᏗ. ᎠᏆᎴᏅᎲ ᏂᎦᏛᏁᎲ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏗᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ ᎤᏂᏂᎬᎬ ᎠᎴ ᏝᎦ Ꮩ ᎾᏮᏁᎸ ᏕᎦᏕᏲᎲᏍᎬᎢ……. ᏧᎧᏍᏟ ᎠᎩᎾᏝᎢ ᏕᎭᏕᏲᏅᎢ ᎠᏉᏎᎸ. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏄᏰᎸᏓ ᏥᎬᎾᏢᏅᎢ. ᏝᏍᏗ ᏱᏦᏝᏩᏕᎨᏍᏗ ᏱᏙᏪᎵᏍᎨᏍᏗ, ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᎤᏂᏂᎬᎦ. ᎤᎪᏗᏃ ᎠᎪᎵᏰᎢᏓᏍᏗ ᎠᎦᏎᏍᏙᏗ ᎤᏚᎵᏛ ᎪᎯ ᏥᎩ. ᏚᏂᎾᎢ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏗᎪᏪᎵ ᏧᏪᏘ ᎩᎶ ᏧᏃᏪᎳᏅ ᏗᏒᏂᎸ ᎠᎴ ᏗᎪᎵᏰᏓ ᏂᎨᏒᎾ.”