CHIEF CHAT: Language Center Opens New Chapter in Cherokee Revitalization | New

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The Cherokee language is central to our culture and our identity as a distinct people. Since contact with Europeans, the Cherokee people have been tested by wars, disease, broken treaties, forced evictions, suppression of our government and the removal of our children from their families in boarding schools. , where they could be severely punished just for talking. Cherokee.

We are a strong people, but our ways of life and our language have been eroded by these pressures over time. We are now the largest tribe in the country with over 440,000 citizens, but we have shrunk to around 2,000 fluent Cherokee speakers, most over the age of 70. Now the passage of time and the fragility of human life are our greatest test.

A few days ago, Cherokee speakers from across the country gathered among more than 2,000 attendees for the grand opening of the Durbin Feeling Language Center. This historic 52,000 square foot facility in Tahlequah will help ensure that the language chain that connects us to our Cherokee ancestors will never be broken.

The Durbin Feeling Language Center will house all of the Cherokee Nation’s growing language programs under one roof, including the Tahlequah Cherokee Immersion Charter School, the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program for adult learners, the Tribal Translator Team , and more. It includes 17 classrooms, a library and archives, and other additions that will support the efforts of the Cherokee language department for decades to come. Everything inside the property is written in Cherokee Syllabary.

Most Cherokees today are like their leader: they don’t speak Cherokee. But when I walked into the Durbin Feeling Language Center and was surrounded by young people who all spoke Cherokee, I was never so proud. I know that one of the kids learning at this great facility will one day lead us as a fluent chef.

These children are also part of the wonderful legacy of the late great Durbin Feeling, the greatest contributor to the Cherokee language since Sequoyah. A decorated Vietnam veteran, he authored dozens of books and research articles and developed hundreds of Cherokee language teaching materials that are still in use today. Durbin also compiled the Cherokee Dictionary and took the first steps in bringing Cherokee into the modern world by making it available in word processors and smartphones.

His lifelong mission to save the Cherokee language has also been a sacred responsibility of past and present Cherokee leaders. Just a few years ago, Chief Bill John Baker had an initial vision to convert Cherokee Nation’s old casino building into a language center. Then, in 2019, the Council of the Cherokee Nation approved the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act, introduced by Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and myself, to make the largest linguistic investment in the history of the Cherokee Nation.

The new, state-of-the-art, $20 million facility is the culmination of those efforts, but the most important work remains to be done. This work is ongoing with Cherokee’s dedicated teachers and learners, who will fill the Durbin Feeling Language Center every day.

History will judge us if we can not only save the Cherokee language, but also revitalize it as the core of our people’s lives. Generations from now, I believe that the Cherokee Nation will remain the greatest economic vitality in our region. Our healthcare system will remain the best in Indian country – and will be one of the best in the world. I believe we will have designed an unparalleled system of public safety and justice for all. We will continue to play a leading role in education, poverty alleviation, environmental protection, etc.

But if we lose our language, this precious link to our past and this link to our creation, we will have lost something that none of these other achievements can compensate for.

Failing in the mission to save our language is simply not an option. As I stood at the Durbin Feeling Language Center, I was more confident than ever that generations to come, the Cherokees will know that we have passed the test.

Chuck Hoskin Jr. is the main chief of the Cherokee Nation.

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