Council OKs CN's largest language preservation investment

Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signs the Durbin Feeling Cherokee Language Preservation Act on Oct. 15 at the Tribal Complex. Seated to his left is Feeling's brother, Russell Feeling. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

TAHLEQUAH -- A multi-million-dollar investment into Cherokee language preservation was signed into law Oct. 15.

The $16 million Durbin Feeling Cherokee Language Preservation Act is the largest language investment in Cherokee Nation history, tribal leaders said. Under the act approved by the Tribal Council and signed by Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., a language program hub will be created at the former casino southwest of Tahlequah.

"This was a unanimous, teamwork approach," Hoskin said. "It represents a $16 million investment in our language, some of which is dollars that will continue on in future years for operations. It will do what I think all of us are committed to do, which is to save the Cherokee language."

Hoskin told Rules Committee members Sept. 26 that up to $5 million would "basically renovate the old casino to consolidate all of our language programs under one roof."

"That's the biggest shot in the arm for this fiscal year," he said, adding that extra funding over time would quadruple the Master-Apprentice Language Program.

The initiative will use Cherokee Nation Businesses dividends to renovate the building and centralize language efforts.

As part of the act, a Cabinet-level position called the Secretary of Language, Culture and Community will be established.

"That would do what I think we need to do at the Cherokee Nation, what I intend to do," Hoskin told councilors, "which is to reorganize our programs so that they are organizationally under one roof, not just physically under one roof."

The plan includes a transfer of the casino building, valued at $3.8 million, from CNB to the CN. It will house the Cherokee Immersion School, Cherokee Language Master-Apprentice Program and the tribe's team of Cherokee translators.

The tribe says it already invests more than $6 million per year into language efforts. Approximately 2,000 first-language Cherokee speakers have been identified.

According to the CN, Durbin Feeling is the Cherokee linguist who wrote the Cherokee dictionary and is the single largest contributor to the Cherokee language since Sequoyah. He has worked at the CN since 1976.

"I can remember seeing that dictionary when I was a college student and seeing Durbin's name on it," Hoskin said. "I think it's fitting to name both the legislation and the new facility after him."

Some of Feeling's accomplishments include adding the Cherokee syllabary on a word processor in the 1980s. He also started the process to add the Cherokee language on Unicode, which today allows smartphones to offer the syllabary, and he developed hundreds of Cherokee language teaching materials used today.

Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd commended the chief for naming the act after Feeling.

"I don't know if we could have found a better person at that level for what he has contributed to our tribe, our language preservation and just being part of who we are," Byrd said.

Feeling was unable to attend the Oct. Tribal Council meeting, but was represented by family.

On Oct. 15, the council also approved a host of board appointments and reappointments.

Councilors also reappointed Brian Hail, Ricky Kelly, Dr. Roger Montgomery, Ami Sams and Dr. Stephen Jones to the Cherokee Health Partners Board, and Wayne Coldwell was approved as a new member.

Carrie Philpott and Farrell Prater were appointed to the Registration Committee.

Valerie Rogers was reappointed and Brandi Payton was appointed to the Comprehensive Care Agency's board.