CHEROKEE TRANSLATORS: Sixkiller: Cherokee language key to Cherokee identity
Editor's note: This is the final feature in the Cherokee Phoenix's Cherokee Translators series. To read the five previous stories, go to the Culture section of the website.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Dennis Sixkiller grew up in Jay speaking Cherokee as his first language. However, as he got older, he said he began to use the language less and less, becoming an a good example of “use it or lose it.”
“I could understand it all, but I wasn’t using it or talking it. I had to go back and learn how to talk and how to say some of the words in Cherokee,” he said. “Still have some words that I have problems pronouncing, but as far as using it daily. You really have to keep on using it or you will lose it.”
Sixkiller works as a CN translation specialist and learned to read and write Cherokee about 10 years ago. He said working in the translation department helps increase his language knowledge.
“I really have to dig deep in dictionaries, English and in Cherokee, to find these words and a proper or better definition of the word. That’s how I translate words, and I think a lot of us do it that way, too,” he said. “It is really challenging and our language is really complex in every way.”
Aside from translating, Sixkiller produces a radio show on Tahlequah radio station Lakes Country 102.1 FM on Sundays as well as teaches the language in Cherokee communities.
“There is a challenge there (in the communities) too because I have some that are fluent, some know a little, some a little more and some just beginning,” he said.
After having taught in communities and worked with the Cherokee Language Immersion School, Sixkiller said the revitalization of the Cherokee language has a long way to go.
“The children now-a-days may not be as fluent and speak like we do, they might talk a little bit different, but they can get to the fluency part if they really get after it,” he said. “If they put their whole heart into it. Like anything else you have to have that desire to learn. You got to want to, but we still have a long ways to go, I believe.”
Sixkiller also helps with the revitalization efforts as part of a consortium group between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina and the CN. The group meets about four times a year.
“We all get together and we translate words, and so far we have translated probably over 1,000 words in the last three years,” he said. “I really enjoy that and meeting with them because their language is a little different than ours. We get together and we agree on one word and they say it their way and we say it our way.”
Sixkiller said he hopes to leave a legacy not only for his children and grandchildren, but also for anyone with a desire to keep the Cherokee language alive.
“Maybe (they) will pick up what I have left behind, what I’ve translated or recorded…they might pick it up and have a desire to want to learn and hopefully while I’m living,” he said.
“I interviewed an elder not too long ago and he told me that the day that you lose your language is the day that we lose our identity as a Cherokee. And that really sticks out to me and I don’t ever want to lose the language.”
ᏓᎵᏆ, ᎣᎸᎵᎰᎹ--- ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎨᎳ ᎼᏏ ᏑᏓᎵᏗᎯᎯ ᎤᏛᏒ ᏜᏴᎪᎢ ᎢᎬᏱ ᎤᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎨᏒ ᏣᎳᎩ. ᎠᏍᏍᎩᏂ, ᎤᏛᏏᏌᏂᏃ, Ꮭ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᎦ ᏱᎬᏗᏍᎨ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏭᏟᎢᎶᏞ “ᎬᏙᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏓᏲᏎᏗ.”
“ᏂᎦᏓ ᎪᎵᎬ, ᎠᏎᏍᎩᏂ Ꮭ ᏱᎬᏗᏍᎨ ᏱᏥᏬᏂᏍᎨ. ᎠᏇᏅᏍᏗ ᏄᎵᏍᏔᏅ ᎠᎴ ᎠᏆᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎠᎩᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᏃᎴ ᎠᏆᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᏄᎵᏍᏔᏅ ᎢᎦᏓ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏗᎧᏁᎢᏍᏗ,” ᎤᏛᏅ. “ᏏᏃ ᏴᏓᎭ ᎢᎦᏓ ᏗᎧᏁᎢᏍᏗ ᏓᏆᏦᏍᏓᏁᎰ ᎢᏗᎩᏪᏍᏗ, ᏧᎩᏨᏅᏓ ᎬᏙᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ. ᏙᎯᏳᏃ ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᎬᏙᏗ ᎠᎴ ᏙᎯᏳ ᏲᏩᎨᏩ.”
ᏑᏓᎵᏗᎯᎯ ᏚᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎭ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᏧᎾᏁᎶᏙᏗ ᎠᎦᏔᎯ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏕᎶᏆᎠ ᏧᎪᎵᏰᏗ ᎠᎴ ᏧᏬᏪᎶᏗ ᏗᏣᎳᎩ ᏢᎠᏎ ᏍᎪᎯ ᎾᏕᏘᏯ ᏥᎨᏒᎢ. ᏚᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎲ ᏧᎾᏁᎶᏙᏗ ᎤᏍᏕᎵᏍᎪ ᎤᎪᏓ ᎧᏁᏉᎪ ᎠᏕᎶᏆᏍᎬ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᎦᏙᎯᎲᏍᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ.
“ᏙᎯᏳᏃ ᎭᏫᏂ ᎠᎩᏍᎪᏏᏓᏍᏗ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎪ ᎾᎿ ᏲᏁᎬ dictionary, ᎢᏧᎳ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎾᏍᏊ, ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏂᎦᏛᏁᎰ ᏕᎦᏁᎶᏗᏍᎬ ᎠᎩᏩᏛᏗ ᏚᏳᎪᏛ ᏕᎬᏗᎬ ᎾᎿ ᏗᎧᏁᎢᏍᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎣᎩᎪᏛ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏃᏣᏛᏁᎰ,” ᎤᏛᏅᎢ. “ᏙᎯᏳᏃ ᎠᏟᏂᎬᏗ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎠᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᏲᏚᎵ ᎡᎵᏃ ᎤᏦᏍᏗ ᎤᎪᏛ ᏚᏃᏴᎬ ᏗᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎨᏒ ᎠᎴ ᎢᏗᎬᏗ ᎪᏪᎶᏗᎢ.”
ᏝᏃ ᎠᏁᎶᏗᏍᎩᏊ ᎢᎦ ᏳᎭ ᏧᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᏗ, ᏑᏓᎵᏗᎯᎯ ᎾᎿ radio ᎦᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎾᎿ ᏓᎵᏆ Lakes Country 102.1 FM ᎾᏍᎩ ᏙᏓᏆᏍᎬ ᏱᎩ ᎠᎴ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏓᏕᏲᎲᏍᎪ ᏍᎦᏚᎩ ᏚᏙᏢᏒ ᏣᎳᎩᎯ.
“ᎢᎦᏃ ᏗᎦᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᏗ ᎾᎿ “ᏗᏍᎦᏚᎩ ᏚᏙᏢᏒ” ᎾᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᎢᎦᏓ ᎧᎵ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎨᏐ, ᎢᎦᏓᏅ ᎤᏍᏗ, ᎢᎦᏓᏃ ᎤᎪᏙ ᎠᎴ ᎩᎳ ᎠᎾᎴᏂᏍᎩ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ.
ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏧᏕᏲᏃᏅ ᏍᎦᏚᎩ ᏚᏙᏢᏒ ᎠᎴ ᏧᎾᏍᏗ ᏗᏂᏲᏓ ᏣᎳᎩᎭ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᏧᏍᏕᎸᎰᏅ, ᏑᏓᎵᏗᎯᎯ ᎠᏗᏍᎬ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎨᏒ ᎤᏓᏅᎯᏓ ᏍᏓᏯ ᏗᎦᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᏗ Ꮟ ᎤᏓᎷᎳ.
“ᏗᏂᏲᏟ ᎪᎯ ᏥᎩ Ꮭ ᏙᎯᏳ ᎧᎵ ᏯᏂᏬᏂ ᎠᎴ ᎠᏯ ᏥᏗᏬᏂ ᎤᏠᏯ, ᎡᎵᏊᏃ ᏄᏓᎴ ᏱᎾᏅᏁ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ, ᎠᏎᏃ ᎡᎵᏊ ᏭᏂᎷᎯᏍᏗ ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᏳᎾᎦᏎᏍᏗ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬ. “ ᏂᎦᏓ ᎠᎾᏓᏅᏖᏍᎬ ᏳᏅᏔᏂ ᏙᎯᏳ ᏳᎾᏚᎵ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ. ᎠᏎᏃ ᏣᏚᎸᏗ ᏗᏣᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗᎢ, ᎠᏎᏃ Ꮟ ᎪᎯᏓ ᎤᏓᎷᎳ, ᎠᏉᎯᏳ.”
ᏑᏓᎵᏗᎯᎯ ᎾᏍᏊ ᏓᏍᏕᎵᏍᎪ ᏓᏂᏤᎲᏍᏗᏍᎬ ᏓᎾᏅᏓᏗᏏᏏᏍᎬ ᏗᎧᏁᎢᏍᏗ ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎠᎴ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎤᏪᏘ ᎠᏁᎯ ᎢᏧᎳ ᏙᎩᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎰᎢ. ᎯᎢᎾ ᎣᎦᏓᏈᎬ ᏅᎩ ᎢᏳᏩᎪᏗ ᏙᏣᏠᏍᎪ ᏑᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎨᏒᎢ.
“ᏂᎦᏓ ᏙᏣᏓᏟᏏᏍᎪ ᎠᎴ ᏙᏣᏁᎶᏗᏍᎪ ᏗᎧᏁᎢᏍᏗ, ᎠᎴ ᏃᏊ ᎨᏒ ᎠᎦᏴᎵ ᎤᎶᏒᏍᏗ ᏦᎦᏁᎶᏔᏅ ᎾᎿ ᏦᎢ ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏓ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ. “ᎣᏍᏓ ᎠᏆᏓᏅᏙ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏃᏣᏛᏁᎲ ᎠᎴ ᏙᏣᏠᏍᎬᎢ ᏅᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᎤᏂᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᏚᏓᎴᎾ ᎠᏰᏃ ᎣᎩᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ. ᎣᏣᏓᏟᏏᏍᎪ ᎠᎴ ᎣᏏ ᎣᏥᏱᎸᏍᎪ ᎧᏁᎢᏍᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏅᏌ ᎤᏠᏯ ᎤᏂᏁᎢᏍᏗ ᎣᏏ ᎣᏥᏰᎸᏍᎪᎢ ᎤᏂᎲ ᎤᏂᏁᎢᏍᏗ,
ᏑᏓᎵᏗᎯᎯ ᎠᏗᏍᎬ ᎤᏚᎩ ᎤᏩᎭ ᎤᎯᏯᏍᏗ ᏴᏫ ᎬᏩᏂᎪᎵᏰᏓ Ꮭ Ꮩ ᏧᏛᎯᏍᏔᏅᏊ ᎤᏅᏌ ᎠᎴ ᏧᎵᏏ, ᎾᏂᎥᏊᏍᎩᏂ ᎤᎾᏚᎵᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᎵᏏᏅᏙᏗ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎬᏃᏓ ᎢᏳᎵᏍᏙᏗᎢ ᎬᏙᏗ ᏂᎪᎯᎸᎢ.
“ᎾᏍᎩᏃ (ᏯᏅᏓ) ᏱᏩᎾᎴᎾ ᎾᎿ ᏩᎩᏍᏘᏅᎢ, ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏆᏁᎶᏔᏅ, ᎠᎴ ᏗᎩᏂᏴᏓ tapes ᏓᎲᎢ…… ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏯᏄᏔᎩ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏚᎵᏗ ᏱᏄᎾᎵᏍᏓᏏ ᎤᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏚᎩ ᎠᏮᎭ Ꮟ ᎬᎥᏊ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᏳᎵᏍᏙᏗᎢ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ.
“ᎠᎦᏴᎵ ᏥᏯᏛᏛᎮᏢᏅ Ꮭ ᏯᎪᎯᎩᏊ ᎠᎴ ᎠᎩᏃᎯᏎᎸ ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᎢᎦ ᎢᎩᏲᏎᎸ ᎢᎩᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎾᎿ ᎡᎪᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᏓᎩᏲᏎᎵ ᎢᏗᏣᎳᎩ ᎨᏒᎢ. ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᏙᎯᏳ ᎨᏒ ᏥᎪᏩᏘᏍᎪ ᎠᎴ Ꮭ ᏯᏆᏚᎵᏍᎪ ᎠᎩᏲᏎᏗ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ.