PARK HILL, Okla. -- It's as it should be in the Cherokee Heritage Center's Ancient Village because the Cherokee language is being spoken and heard daily.

Village tour guides J.D. Ross and Steven Daugherty, both fluent Cherokee speakers, use the language to explain the culture and traditions showcased in the village while using their first language.

This is the second year the men are serving as Cherokee-speaking tour guides.

Ross, of the Greasy Community in Adair County, said he enjoys speaking Cherokee and teaching others the language but finds it unfortunate that not many Cherokee-speaking people visit the village.

"Since we do most of these tours in English, it's just passing some history on, how the Cherokee people lived back in the 1700s. That's the century we are concentrating on right now," he said.

He added that he and Daugherty take time to share Cherokee beliefs, traditions and the "old ways."

Ross said some visitors want translations of English phrases, and the guides try to accommodate them, consulting with each other to ensure the translation is correct.

Visitors from around the world visit the Ancient Village, Ross said, with some relating to Cherokee customs and traditions because of similarities to their own traditions or customs.

"Sometimes we talk to them and just kind of compare notes," he said. "Some linger back and kind of give us of little history of their heritage and their background."

Daugherty, of the Bell Community in Adair County, said he welcomed the chance to return to the village to serve as a guide. He too wishes more Cherokee speakers would visit so that he and Ross could converse with them.

He said he does not mind helping non-Cherokee speakers who ask for translations. But he emphasized the guides are not able to spend time attempting to translate English names to Cherokee.

Daugherty said he wants visitors to know two things before they leave the village: how Cherokee people lived in the 1700s and that the language is still spoken.

Recently, the village was re-configured to reflect Cherokee life in 1710 rather than the 1600s as in previous years. There are plans to expand the village and hire more villagers to staff it, possibly within the next year.

A grant from the International Museum of Library Studies in Washington, D.C., helped get the language tours started, said Ancient Village Supervisor Tommy Wildcat.

"We thought it was very important to continue with the language tours," he said.

He added that he thought it was important to rehire Ross and Daugherty because of their experience. Wildcat said the two guides are now more comfortable in their roles, easily entertain visitors and a valuable part of making the Ancient Village more authentic for visitors.

"It's been a great success because we have a lot of people experiencing the Cherokee language," he said.

Wildcat said the tours would continue through September. An introductory language tour is available at regular admission every Tuesday through Saturday at 1:30 p.m. For fluent Cherokee speakers and Cherokee language students, a complete and complimentary immersion tour can be reserved between Tuesday and Saturday. Tours are 30-45 minutes long.

Ross and Daugherty guide visitors through the village, stopping at nine stations where they or other villagers demonstrate basket making, bow and arrow making, the stickball game, flint knapping and the Cherokee blowgun. The guides also explain the Cherokee stomp dances and how the dances are performed.

Wildcat said for 44 years the Ancient Village has been sharing Cherokee culture with the world, but more importantly, it serves as a classroom for young Cherokee people to get hands-on training in how to make traditional Cherokee tools such as bows and arrows, blowguns and darts, arrowheads, baskets and pottery. Some former students have become award-winning artists and pass on the knowledge they learned as villager.

"Many have come through here learning these unique traditions perpetuated here by the villagers," Wildcat said.

For more information, call 918-456-6007, ext. 6148, or email Susan Cro at susan-cro@cherokee.org.

will-chavez@cherokee.org * 918-207-3961