4th grader learns Cherokee syllabary in Braille

BY STACIE BOSTON
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
09/22/2014 08:06 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Hailey Baskeyfield, 10, is a fourth grader at Jackson Elementary School in Norman. She was born with severe health problems causing her to have scoliosis of the spine, as well as missing some ribs, vertebra and part of her brain. She was also declared blind at 6 months old.

She started learning Braille when she was 2 years old. Since then she’s learned other languages in Braille and speech, one of those languages being Cherokee.

Tami Baskeyfield, Hailey’s grandmother, said Hailey was chosen at her school as a child with potential to learn languages at a fast pace.

“Cedric Sunray began teaching her Cherokee, and what they did was they puff painted the syllabary and symbols,” she said. “She learned to read them by touch. He worked with her most of the school year, but only once a week. She took to it very quickly.”

With Hailey’s knowledge of Cherokee, she began entering language competitions, one of those being the 2014 Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair at the Sam Noble Museum in Norman.

At the competition, Hailey told judges the Cherokee names of different objects she picked up from a table located on stage. After that she was instructed to go to the Braille writer, which is the equivalent of a typewriter, and typed specific Cherokee words. Then she went to a basket of index cards that had Cherokee syllables in Braille on them and named 40 of the 86 syllables before running out of time.

Tami said after Hailey won the competition she was able to give the Braille writer its Cherokee name.

“It was put through a panel of linguistics and approved,” she said. “My understanding is theoretically in 150 years from now if they’re talking about the Braille writer in Cherokee, the name she gave it is what it will be called. She named it ‘My Mommy’s Baby.’”

Hailey said she named the Braille writer “My Mommy’s Baby” because she thought it was “pretty cool.”

Aside from competing in Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair, Hailey has competed in the Oklahoma Braille Challenge, is a part of her school’s Gifted and Talented program and Indian Education Program and is a straight-A student.

Tami said she is proud of her granddaughter, but believes “proud” does not even begin to explain how she feels about the challenges Hailey has overcome.

“I’ve had her since birth, and I’ve seen the challenges that she’s been faced with and has overcome,” she said. “I see everything from day one to now and proud is such a wimpy word. It just doesn’t give justice to my feelings for her and what she’s accomplished. It’s beyond pride. I tell her all the time how proud I am and it just seems to always feel like it falls short of what is real.”

The Cherokee syllabary in Braille is a new form to the language. Aside from Hailey and Sunray, the Commonwealth Braille and Talking Book Cooperative are working to help establish the Braille syllabary.

Roy Boney, Cherokee Nation language program manager, said he has been working with the group to help get this new form of the Cherokee language available.

“There’s a system called Unicode, which that’s the digital system that governs how languages are used on computers. Cherokee is in that system. And what they do is they go through and they ensure that every language that’s been encoded into the Unicode has a Braille equivalent,” he said. “So they got to Cherokee and saw that we didn’t have a Braille version and they wanted to make one.”

With the Cherokee syllabary now available in a Braille format, the raised print can now be readily made using special printers.

“It’s neat to see that the Cherokee syllabary has gone through all these changes, not really changes, but it adapts to every type of writing technology there is and this is another form of that for literacy,” he said.

For more information about the Cherokee syllabary in Braille, visit www.cbtbc.org/cherokee.

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