TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. announced Friday a $16 million investment in Cherokee language preservation – the largest language investment in the tribe’s history.
Chief Hoskin announced the “Durbin Feeling Cherokee Language Preservation Act” during a celebration of Cherokee language speakers.
“Now is the time to be bold and act quickly so we do not fail the legacy of our ancestors or future of our Cherokee speakers,” Chief Hoskin said. “We have focused on health care and economic development, and we have seen immeasurable achievements, but now we must also focus on saving our Cherokee language as another high priority.”
The Durbin Feeling Cherokee Language Preservation Act will:
• Create a Secretary of Language, Culture and Community cabinet-level position under administration.
• Transfer the CNB former Cherokee Casino Tahlequah building valued at $3.8 million to Cherokee Nation for a language center.
• Invest an additional $5 million from Cherokee Nation Businesses’ dividends to renovate and expand the language center.
• Officially name the language center the “Durbin Feeling Language Center” after modern-day Sequoyah and first-language Speaker Durbin Feeling.
• Invest another $1.5 million per year for five years from CNB dividends for language program operations, with an option to reauthorize for additional years.
• The Durbin Feeling Language Center will house the Cherokee Immersion Charter School, Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program and the tribe’s team of Cherokee translators together in the center.
“The Cherokee language, I believe, is the soul of the Cherokee people. It is the source of our pride and our strength as a tribe,” said Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. “That’s why revitalizing the Cherokee language has become a priority of the utmost importance. The investments we are making in our language programs are meant not only to preserve the Cherokee language today, but to encourage us as Cherokee people to embrace our language and to use it for many generations into the future. Today is a great day in the Cherokee Nation and a new chapter in the preservation of our Cherokee language."
The Cherokee Nation currently has about 2,000 identified first-language Cherokee speakers.
The tribe invests more than $6 million per year into its language department, Cherokee Immersion Charter School, Master Apprentice Program and Cherokee Voices, Cherokee Sounds Radio Show.
“I can say without a doubt that Durbin Feeling laid the groundwork for this generation’s preservation of the Cherokee language,” Council of the Cherokee Nation Speaker Joe Byrd said. “I believe because of his efforts and the work of so many of our first-language Cherokee speakers, including those here in the Cherokee Nation and our brothers and sisters from the United Keetoowah Band and the Eastern Band of Cherokees, that we’re going to save our Cherokee language. The Council of the Cherokee Nation has always been a supporter of every effort to preserve the Cherokee language, and we all look forward to seeing our language carried on to the next generation.”
Feeling is the leading Cherokee linguist who wrote the Cherokee dictionary and is the single largest contributor to the Cherokee language since Sequoyah. He has worked at the Cherokee Nation since 1976.
Some of his accomplishments include adding 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 Cherokee Syllabary, and he developed hundreds of Cherokee language teaching materials that remain in use today.
The Council of the Cherokee Nation passed the Durbin Feeling Cherokee Language Preservation Act in committee on Thursday and is expected to pass full council.