TAHLEQUAH – When COVID-19 hit the Cherokee Nation in 2020, the most vulnerable to the virus included fluent Cherokee speakers. And when a vaccine became available in December, speakers were some of the first on the list to get vaccinated. 

By making connections to speakers when the pandemic began and informing them to stay home for protection, Cherokee Language Department staff continued with those connections to ensure speakers would get vaccinated.

“We would just talk to these speakers about what was going on. Some of them were afraid,” Cherokee Language Department Executive Director Howard Paden said. “They didn’t understand staying inside and that was March, April, May of last year. We kind of worked where we were bringing food and different things and making those connections, all the way up until it was time to start doing vaccinations.”

After meeting with Health Services staff and CN administration, the plan was to contact as many Cherokee speakers as possible to get vaccinated.

Paden said his department made calls to see if elder speakers would get the vaccine and coordinated with the CN Outpatient Clinic staff to give them names, birthdates and phone numbers for appointments.

Sammy Still, a Cherokee Language Department translator, was one of the speakers patched in during that time to answer questions other speakers had. 

“In a 24-hour period, we lost four speakers. We were worried,” Paden said. “So we didn’t want translators there but if anyone had questions, Sammy started answering these phone calls. It was at night or whatever, I was patching him in and he was answering all the questions they had.”

Paden said when speakers began coming to the clinic to get vaccinated, he and his team tried to be as accommodating as possible. “They had flyers for them when they first walked in, it was in Cherokee. If they had any questions, it was all there. If they had any more questions, I would try to answer them or we would put Sammy or somebody on the phone with them. They even had iPads so you could FaceTime with them if we needed to. So we tried to make it as comfortable as we could. Some of them were just scared, so we were just there for them. We needed to keep our distance but still just be there. At the time they weren’t letting relatives in there with them.”

Because of Paden’s team helping create sources such as the Cherokee Speakers Hotline or posting videos in Cherokee to encourage speakers, more than 1,300 Cherokee speakers have been vaccinated since February.

“What’s cool is the vast number of Cherokee speakers that has gotten vaccinated. At the end of February we estimated 1,350 out of 2,000,” Paden said. “If society has abused anybody, it’s Indigenous native-speaking people with boarding schools and that sort of thing. Yet, they’re the ones as far as I can tell has led the charge with vaccinations percentage-wise.”

Still said it was an honor for him to help get speakers vaccinated.

“We lost so many fluent Cherokee speakers in the past year, and it’s sad,” Still said. “We hold them dear to our hearts. What I did, answering their questions, making sure they got their vaccines to me was an honor. It was something I felt in my heart because those are my people. Those are my elders. Those are my Cherokee speaking people. Once we lose them, that’s it.” 

ᏓᎵᏆ – ᎾᎯᏳᏃ ᎪᏈᏗ-19 ᏧᏱᎶᏢ ᎠᎭᏂ ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎾᎯᏳ 2020, ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᏂᎩᏌᏓ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᏬᎪᏛ ᎤᎾᏠᏯᏍᏗᏍᎩ ᎤᏂᏩᎾᎦᎶᏍᏗᏍᎩ ᎥᏳᎩ ᎨᏒᎩ. ᎠᎴ ᎾᎯᏳ ᎥᏳᎩ ᎠᎭᎷᎩᏍᎩ ᏧᎾᏛᏅᎢᏍᏔᏅ ᎾᎿᎢ ᎥᏍᎩᏱ ᏥᎧᎸᎢ, ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᎬᏱᎢ ᎤᎾᎢ ᏕᎨᎪᏪᎸ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏰᎸ ᎠᏍᏕᎵᏍᎩ ᏗᎨᏥᏣᏲᏍᏗᎢ.

ᎾᏍᎩ ᏙᏣᏢᏃᎮᏔᏅ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎾᎯᏳ ᏂᎬᎾᏛ ᎠᏱᎵᏙᎲ ᏧᏓᎴᏅᎲ ᎠᎴ ᏙᏥᏃᏎᎸ ᎢᏥᏁᏍᏗᏊ ᏗᏤᏅᏒᎢ ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎢᏣᏓᎵᏏᏅᏕᏍᏗᏊ, ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᏓᏡᎬ ᏧᏂᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎯ ᏂᎬᏯᎢᏒᏊ ᏓᎾᏢᏃᎮᏗᏍᎬ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎤᏃᎯᏳᏙᏗ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏰᎸ ᎠᏍᏕᎵᏍᎩ ᏗᎨᏥᏣᏲᏍᏗᎢ.   

“ᏂᎦᏛᏉ ᏚᏳᎪᏛᏉ ᏙᏣᏜᏃᎮᏗᏍᎬ ᎯᎠ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏔᏂᏙᎲᎢ. ᎢᎦᏓᏃ ᎠᏂᏍᎦᎢᎲᎢ,” ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᏓᏡᎬ ᏄᎬᏫᏳᏌᏕᎩ ᏧᏓᏘᎾᎢ Howard Paden ᏄᏪᏒᎩ. “ᎥᏝᏃ  ᏯᏃᎵᎨᎢ ᎦᎵᏦᏕ ᎤᏂᏴᏍᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎾᏳᎢ ᎠᏅᏱ, ᎫᏬᏂ, ᎠᏅᏍᎬᏘ ᏥᏕᎧᎸᎢ ᎡᏘ ᏥᎨᏒᎢ. ᏂᎦᏛᏉ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᏙᎩᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎸᎩ ᎤᎾᏃ ᎠᎵᏍᏓᏴᏗ ᏬᏥᏲᎯᎲ ᎠᎴ ᏧᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᎪᎱᏍᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎾᏍᎩᎾᎢ ᏙᏣᎵᏃᎮᏗᏍᎬᎢ, ᎯᎢᎾᏴ ᏩᏍᏘ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎾᎯᏳ ᏩᏍᏘ ᎤᎾᎴᏅᎲ ᎠᏰᎸ ᎥᏳᎩ ᏧᎾᎵᏍᎦᏍᏙᏓ ᏓᏂᏣᏲᎯᎲᎢ.”

ᎤᎶᏐᏅ ᏙᏣᏠᏍᎬ ᎾᏍᎩᎾᏃ ᏅᏩᏙᎯᏯᏛ ᎢᏗᏓᏛᏁᏗ ᏧᏂᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎯ ᎣᎦᎵᏲᏅᎢ ᎠᎴ CN ᎤᏂᎬᏫᏳᏌᏕᎩ, ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏍᏓᏩᏛᏍᏗ ᎾᏍᎩᎾᎢ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᏗᏟᏃᎮᏙᏗ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎾᏂᎥᏊ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎬᎢ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏰᎸ ᎠᏍᏕᎵᏍᎩ ᏗᎨᏥᏣᏲᏍᏗᎢ.

Paden ᏄᏪᏒᎩ ᎤᏤᎵ ᎤᎾᏓᏡᎬ ᏗᎵᏃᎮᏗ ᎬᏗ ᏫᏚᏅᏓᏁᎸᎩ ᎠᏂᎦᏴᎵ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎢᏳᏃ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎥᏳᎩ ᎠᎭᎷᎩᏍᎩ ᏗᎨᏥᏣᏲᏍᏗ ᏱᎩ ᎠᎴ ᏗᎵᎪᏗ ᎬᏗ ᎾᏍᎩ CN ᏙᏯᏗᏢ ᏧᎾᏓᏂᎵ ᎨᏥᎪᎵᏰᏗᎢ ᏧᏂᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎯ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏚᎾᏙᎲ ᏧᏂᏁᏗ, ᏚᎾᏕᏅ ᎠᎴ ᏗᏟᏃᎮᏗ ᏗᏎᏍᏗ ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᏚᏂᏒᏍᏔᏅ ᎤᏂᎸᎯᏍᏗᎢ. 

Sammy Still, ᎾᏍᎩ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᏓᏡᎬ ᏗᏁᏢᏗᏍᎩ, ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏌᏊ ᎨᏒ ᎦᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎤᎵᏍᏕᎸᎲᎩ ᎾᎯᏳ ᏥᏓᏟᏱᎵᏙᎲᎢ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏗᎾᏛᏛᎲᏍᎩ ᏕᎦᏬᎯᎵᏴᎮᎲᎩ ᎠᏂᏐᎢ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᏚᏂᎲᎢ. 

“ᎾᎯᏳ 24-ᏑᏟᎶᏛ ᎠᏟᏱᎵᏒᎢ, ᏅᎩ ᏙᎩᏲᎱᏎᎸ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ. ᏂᎦᏛᏉ ᎤᏪᎵᎯᏍᏗ ᏃᎦᎵᏍᏓᏁᎸᎢ,” Paden ᏄᏪᏒᎩ. “ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏂᎦᏛᏉ Ꮭ ᏗᎾᏁᏢᏗᏍᎩ ᏲᎦᏚᎵᏍᎨ ᎤᏁᏓᏍᏗᎢ ᎠᏎᏃ ᎢᏳᏃ ᎩᎶᎢ ᏗᎾᏛᏛᎲᏍᎩ ᏚᏂᎲᎢ, Sammy ᎤᎴᏅᎲᎩ ᏕᎦᏬᎯᎵᏴᏍᎬᎢ ᎯᎠᏃ ᏗᏟᏃᎴᏗ ᏙᏛᏗᏍᎬᎢ. ᎾᏳᏃ ᎤᏒᏃ ᎨᏒᎢ ᎠᎴ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᎸᏢᎢ, ᎠᏴ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏥᎦᏙᏍᏛᎢ ᎠᎴ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏕᎦᏬᎯᎵᏴᏍᎬᎢ ᏂᎦᏓ ᏗᏛᏛᎲᏍᎩ ᏚᏂᎲᎢ.”

Paden ᏄᏪᏒᎩ ᎾᎯᏳ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᎴᏅᎲ ᏓᏂᎷᎬᎢ ᎾᎾᎢ ᎨᏥᎪᎵᏰᏗᎢ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏰᎸ ᎠᏍᏕᎵᏍᎩ ᏕᎨᏥᏣᏲᎢᎲᎢ, ᎾᏃ ᎠᎴ ᏧᏤᎵ ᏓᏘᏁᎲᎢ ᎤᎾᏁᎵᏔᏅᎩ ᏧᏂᏍᏕᎸᏗᎢ ᎢᎦᎥᏊ ᎨᏒᎢ. “ᏗᎦᏃᏣᎵᏍᎩ ᏙᎩᎾᎥᎢ ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᏦᏥᏅᏁᏗ ᎾᎯᏳ ᎢᎬᏱ ᏳᏂᏴᏟᏝ, ᏣᎳᎩ ᎬᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ. ᎢᏳᏃ ᏂᎦᎥ ᏗᏛᏛᎲᏍᎩ ᏚᏂᎲᎢ, ᎤᎾᎢ ᏂᎦᏓ ᏅᏍᏛᎢ. ᎢᏳᏃ ᎤᏟ ᎢᎦᎢ ᏗᏛᏛᎲᏍᎩ ᏳᏂᎭ, ᎠᏴ ᎦᏓᎢᏕᎲ ᎠᏩᏁᎸᏙᏗ ᎠᎩᏬᎯᎵᏴᏍᏗᎢ ᎠᎴ ᏂᎦᏛᏉSammy ᎣᏥᎧᎲᏍᎬ ᏗᏟᏃᎮᏍᎩ ᎠᎴ ᎩᎶᎢ ᎤᎾᎢ ᏗᏟᏃᎮᏗᎢ ᎬᏗ. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎾᏍᏊᏃ iPads ᏚᏂᎲᎩ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏂᎯ ᏰᎵᏊ Face Time ᎬᏗ ᏱᏂᏕᎲᎦ ᎨᏒᎢ ᎢᏳᏃ ᏳᏚᎸᏓ. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏂᎦᏛᏉ ᎤᏣᏁᎸᏗᏍᎬ ᎾᎢ ᎤᏦᎠᏎᏗ ᏂᎨᏒᎾ ᏳᎵᏍᏙᏗᎢ. ᎢᎦᏓᏃ ᎤᏂᏍᎦᏍᏓᏁᎲᎩ, ᏂᎦᏛᏉ ᎣᏤᏙᎲ ᏦᏥᏍᏕᎸᏗᎢ. ᏂᎦᏛᏉ ᎤᏚᎸᏛ ᎢᎾ ᎢᏗᏓᎳᏗᏍᏗ ᎠᏎᏃ ᏏᏃ ᎣᏤᏙᎲᎢ ᏦᏥᏍᏕᎸᏗᎢ. ᎾᎯᏳ ᏥᎨᏒᎢ ᎥᏝ ᎪᎱᏍᏗ ᏗᎾᏓᏛᏂ ᏱᏓᎾᎵᏍᎪᎸᏓᏁᎮ ᎤᎾᎵᎪᎯ ᎤᏂᏴᏍᏗᎢ.”

ᏅᏓᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗᏍᎬᏃ ᎾᏍᎩ Paden’s ᏓᏘᏁᎲᎢ ᎠᎾᎵᏍᏕᎵᏍᎬ ᎠᏃᏢᏍᎬ ᏗᏓᏳᏓᎵᏅᎯ ᎾᏍᎩᏯ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎤᏗᏞᎩ ᎠᏏᎳᏛᎢ ᎠᎴ ᏓᏂᏯᎸᏍᎬ ᏗᏓᏴᎳᏛᏍᎩ ᎾᎢ ᏓᏂᏅᏫᏍᏗᏍᎬ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ, ᎤᏟ ᎢᎦᎢ ᏏᏃ 1,300 ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᏄᎵᏍᏔᏅ ᎠᏰᎸ ᎠᏍᏕᎵᏍᎩ ᏗᎨᏥᏣᏲᎸᎢ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎧᎦᎵ ᏂᏓᎬᏩᏓᎴᏅᏓ.

“ᎢᏳᏍᏗᏃ ᎣᏍᏓ ᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᎪᏗᏗ ᎢᏯᏂᏓ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏰᎸ ᎠᏍᏕᎵᏍᎩ ᏕᎨᏥᏣᏲᎸᎢ. ᎧᎦᎵ ᎤᎵᏍᏆᏗᏕᎾ ᎣᎦᏎᎸᎯ 1,350 ᎢᎦᎢ ᏭᎵᏍᏗᏃ 2,000.” Paden ᏄᏪᏒᎩ. “ᎢᏳᏃ ᏴᏫ ᎤᎾᏓᏡᎬ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏍᎩᏬ ᎨᏒᎢ ᎤᏲ ᎾᏅᏁᎮᏍᏗ, ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏅᏁᎯᏯ ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ ᏅᏁᎯᏯ-ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎠᏂᏴᏫ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᏠᏯᏍᏗ ᎢᎾ ᎨᏥᏍᏆᏂᎪᏙᏗ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗᎢ ᎠᎴ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎪᎱᏍᏗ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ. ᎠᏏ, ᎾᏍᎩᎾᎢ ᎤᎬᏫᏳᏒᎢ ᎠᏯᏍᎩᏂ ᎦᏕᎳᎣᏍᎬ ᎾᏍᎩᎾᎢ ᎢᎬᏱ ᏓᏘᏂᏒᎩ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎬᏗ ᎠᏰᎸ ᎥᏳᎩ ᏧᎾᎵᏍᎦᏍᏙᏓ ᎢᎦᏘᎭ-ᎠᏂᎦᏔᎿᎢ.”

Still ᏄᏪᏒᎩ ᏙᏳᎢ ᎦᎸᏉᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ ᎠᏯ ᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎦᎵᏍᏕᎵᏍᎬ ᏗᏯᏗᎢ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎠᏰᎸ ᎠᏍᏕᎵᏍᎩ ᏗᎨᏥᏣᏲᏍᏗᎢ.

“ᏂᎦᏛᏉ ᏕᎩᏲᏎᎸ ᎤᏂᎪᏗ ᎤᏂᎩᏌᏓ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎡᏘ ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏌᏗᏒᎢ, ᎠᎴ ᏙᏳ ᎤᎯᏐᏗᏊ,” Still ᏄᏪᏒᎩ. “ᏂᎦᏛᏉ ᏗᎦᎸᏉᏗ ᏕᎩᏂᏴ ᎾᎾᎢ ᏗᎦᏓᏅᏙᎩᎢ. ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᎾᏆᏛᏁᎸ, ᏕᏥᏬᎯᎵᏴᏍᎬ ᏓᎾᏛᏛᎲᏍᎩ, ᏙᏳᏃ ᏚᏳᎪᏛ ᎾᏍᎩᎾᎢ ᎥᏳᎩ ᎠᎭᎷᎩᏍᎩ ᏕᎨᏥᏣᏲᎢᎲᎢ ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎠᏯ ᎨᏒᎢ ᏙᏳᎢ ᎦᎸᏉᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ. ᎾᏍᎩ ᏙᏳᎢ ᎪᎱᏍᏗ ᎠᏆᏓᏅᏙᎩ ᏂᏓᏳᏓᎴᏅᎩ ᎨᏒᎩ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗᏍᎬᏃ ᎾᏍᎩᎾᏃ ᏗᏆᏤᎵ ᎠᏂᏴᏫ. ᎾᏍᎩᎾᏃ ᏗᏆᏤᎵ ᎠᏂᎦᏴᎵ. ᎾᏍᎩᎾᏃ ᏗᏆᏤᎵ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᎠᏂᏴᏫ. ᎢᎸᎯᏳ ᏱᏗᎩᏲᎱᏎᎵ, ᏍᎩᏊ ᏂᎦᎡᏍᏗ.”

– TRANSLATED BY JOHN ROSS