Much like an elder weaving rivercane into the walls of a basket, our Cherokee language speakers strengthen our identity by vibrantly using our language. Language is the most clearly defined aspect of our heritage. It is the foundation of Cherokee culture. Without our language, we lose a significant part of our identity as Cherokee people.
Through the Cherokee Language Master/Apprentice Program along with the Cherokee Nation Translation Department, we recently launched the Cherokee Speakers Roll, a special language registry. With this roll, we will identify and make an accurate record of all living first-language Cherokee speakers. Cherokee National Treasure Durbin Feeling, renowned author and linguist, was the first to sign the registry. He penned the first Cherokee-English dictionary more than 45 years ago.
We are planning local community events to give Cherokee first-language speakers the opportunity to sign the roll and be recognized with a Cherokee first-language speaker medallion.
Cherokee Nation has taken steps with our multitude of language preservation programs to not only ensure the language survives, but that it thrives.
To bridge the generations, we’ve engaged with elder traditional speakers and are building new groups of young speakers through our Cherokee Immersion School. The Cherokee Language Master/Apprentice Program continues to grow and produce extraordinary results, graduating conversational second language speakers who have graduated after just two years of immersive education and practicum. We are now working to create jobs for these new speakers, collaborating with school systems and academic institutions to further disseminate Cherokee language education.
I’m proud of the investments we’ve made in language revitalization and the creative and unique efforts, like this registry, that will help us ensure the Cherokee language will still be carried on through our future generations.
Contained in the pages of this groundbreaking roll will be the names of Cherokee speakers we hold dearly. It will become a historic record, something we will be able to share with future generations of our people. I was honored to write a preface that will be included with the Cherokee Speakers Roll. In part it reads, “Each signature represents a ripple of water as a stone is thrown into the water. It is our hope and plan that each of the speakers creates additional ripples across the water, ensuring the Cherokee language endures forever.”