TAHLEQUAH – In the Sept. 30 Culture Committee meeting, the Tribal Council received updated plans to further the Cherokee language through various programs and partnerships.

Wyman Kirk, who stepped in for Cherokee Nation Language Department Executive Director Howard Paden, relayed current ideas and plans regarding the Cherokee language to the tribe’s legislators.

The Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program has started its fourth cohort, totaling four cohorts taught on as many different levels from novice to advanced. Kirk said there are 22 total students in the program and the CLMAP will graduate its next cohort in February. 

“This last group had 71 applications that were received and the program has finally reached the capacity where it’s operating at,” he said. “The system, I think, is working very well and the students are really growing and demonstrating some significant language improvement in the system and if you follow them at all. Occasionally they do videos on Facebook and whatnot. I think a couple of weeks ago they were catching crawdads and cleaning crawdads. So they’re not always in the classroom.”

Kirk said Wade Blevins, a language technology assistant, is continuing to video Cherokee classes for the Rogers State University’s RSUTV for a Cherokee I class. Blevins recently finished videoing 48 episodes for a Cherokee II class, Kirk said. 

“So there’s already a Cherokee I that has been recorded,” Kirk said. “Those are available on YouTube. These Cherokee II classes will be available as well, and these are the ones that will also be used for the online course at RSU. I also believe there are scholarship monies for individuals who want to take that class that’s available, I think, both concurrently and for students enrolled at Rogers State.”

Kirk said Blevins is also the representative on behalf of the CN Language Department in meetings with Oklahoma’s State Department of Education, which has started a work group to form curriculum and basis for immersion schools.

“So this group is long overdue and Cherokee Nation is represented in this meeting,” he said. “I don’t know quite how far along there in terms of their meeting and putting together standards and recommendations but they have been meeting this year. So when those are completed, we’ll have a set of standards and information specifically for immersion school systems, particularly for Native immersion schools and systems, which obviously impact us.”

Kirk added that the state is also revamping a state language test and it is in the pilot phase.

“This is the Oklahoma subject area test for anybody who wants to be a teacher in the state of Oklahoma,” he said. “To do anything you have to take a test in your subject area, and for Cherokee, it’s this Cherokee test and this is the test that is being revised. That should be completed and ready by spring.”

The Native Language Community Coordination Committee, a CN entity, continues meeting with program leaders that work with the Cherokee language to coordinate and develop streamlined language systems throughout the tribe and its partners, Kirk said. 

A NLCC project is working with the CLMAP and Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina to share information as the Eastern Band prepares to start an adult language immersion program this fall. 

“The CLMAP and NLCC curriculum team hosted program planners from the Eastern Band Snowbird community to share lessons learned as they prepare for an adult language immersion program in the fall,” he said. “So Snowbird community with the Eastern Band will be actually starting their own master apprentice program with adults.”

He also said leaders of the Cherokee Teacher Bridge project, which aims to develop future Cherokee language teachers, are collecting professional language education curriculum from areas school, collaborating with the NLCC through a grant to identify and sort through language teaching methodologies. The tribe is looking into the possibility of a distance-learning program similar to the Choctaw Nation if enough Cherokee speakers can get certified to teach.

“What the Choctaw do is they have a virtual setup where they have certified teachers offering language, and so if you’re a school within their area they connect in and they the class through there,” he said. “So the language department is looking into the possibility of maybe setting up something similar here so that way we could offer a language class for high schools or maybe even middle schools or something with a certified teacher. Obviously our issue is that there just aren’t that many individuals who are certified and to speak Cherokee who could teach Cherokee. There have been a number of inquiries through the year from local schools within the Cherokee Nation who have wanted to have Cherokee language offered but we haven’t been able to really provide that for them. This may be a way to make that possible to a number of schools.” 

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