Cherokee fight to save language from extinction

In classrooms throughout North Carolina and Oklahoma, students are learning about the periodic table of elements or the origins of the Civil War. However, in some classrooms, the lessons are a bit more personal — Cherokee students are learning the history and language of their people.

Cherokee speakers have made great efforts to keep their language alive. But often the schools, programs and tribes involved in that work haven’t shared resources or strategies to achieve their goal. That changed over the summer when the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma signed a memorandum of agreement to protect and preserve the tribes’ shared language, history and culture. The signing took place July 24 at Kituwah Mound near the modern-day Western North Carolina town of Cherokee, the center of the historical Kituwah village that is known as the place of origin for the Cherokee people.

EBCI Principal Chief Richard Sneed says the preservation plan that will result from the agreement is meant to address the siloing that can occur among the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. (The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee, also based in Oklahoma, plans to sign the memorandum at a later date). Each group has its own Cherokee language programs, curriculum and teaching tools. Cherokee Central Schools, a K-12 education system operated by the EBCI since 1990, also has its own language curriculum and developed a language app.

“We’re stronger together than we are separate,” Sneed says. “Let’s pool all of our resources, share resources and open source what we have.”

One component of the plan is a commitment between Western Carolina University and Northeastern State University in Oklahoma to “support Cherokee language revitalization efforts guided by the Cherokee tribes,” says Sara Snyder Hopkins, who directs the Cherokee Language Program at WCU.

“It commits us to share language and cultural pedagogical materials between university and tribal programs,” Hopkins explains. Resources could include instructional videos, children’s books and information about cultural sites.

Read more: Mountain Xpress

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