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Cherokee Nation creates department dedicated to preserving Cherokee language

The Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act allows the tribe to make the largest investment its language programs in Cherokee Nation history.
Credit: Cherokee Nation

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation is establishing a new language department that will directly oversee the tribe’s Cherokee Immersion School, a team of translators and the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program.  

The department will focus on language preservation and generating more proficient second-language Cherokee speakers with the goal of preserving and growing the Cherokee language in both spoken and written forms.

In September 2019, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Chief Chuck Hoskin, announced the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act, which allows the tribe to make the largest investment into its language programs in Cherokee Nation history.

The Act transferred Cherokee Nation Businesses’ former Cherokee Casino-Tahlequah building to the Cherokee Nation for the new Durbin Feeling Language Center, named in honor of the author of the Cherokee dictionary, Durbin Feeling.

The Act included $5 million from Cherokee Nation Businesses dividends to renovate and expand the Durbin Feeling Language Center and another $1.5 million for operational costs associated with the language program’s expansion.

“In order to save and perpetuate our Cherokee language, it is essential for our Cherokee language programs to be together in one department and in one location so that we can share resources, share the Cherokee language, and work together on the same objective, which is making sure our language not online survives, but thrives,” Chief Hoskin said. “These programs will soon all be housed in the new Durbin Feeling Language Center.”

Howard Paden was named as the Executive Director of the tribe’s new language department, Wyman Kirk was named Administrator of the Cherokee Immersion School and Jeromie Hammer was named as Principal.

All three are Cherokee Nation citizens and each has been learning the Cherokee language for at least two decades.

The Cherokee Nation’s Cherokee language programs include:

  • translation office
  • community and online language classes
  • the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program
  • language technology
  • Cherokee Immersion School

Paden began working for the Cherokee Nation in 2003 with the tribe’s Indian Child Welfare department, where he worked tirelessly for Cherokee children and family reunification.

“Unfortunately, we’re losing upwards of a hundred fluent Cherokee speakers a year,” Paden said. “We recently lost seven alone in one month, three of them from COVID-19.”

As Administrator of the Cherokee Immersion School, Kirk will lead the Immersion School and will be responsible for the development, implementation, supervision and evaluation of educational and student services, and he has more than 25 years of experience in Cherokee history and language curriculum development.

“Chief Hoskin has proven that language is a priority and knowing that this won't be just ‘me’ or just Immersion doing this, but rather the full weight and resources of the Cherokee Nation, all of us together, making this work.” said Kirk.

For more information on Cherokee Nation’s Cherokee language programs, visit www.cherokee.org.

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