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Cherokee Nation mourns passing of Cherokee Durbin Feeling, largest contributor to Cherokee language since Sequoyah

Feeling received both Purple Heart and National Defense medals, and he was an ordained minister, who wrote the Cherokee dictionary.
Credit: Cherokee Nation

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Durbin Feelin, the largest contributor to the Cherokee language since Sequoyah, has passed away at the age of 74.

Durbin Feeling was born in 1946, just east of Locust Grove, and he wrote the Cherokee dictionary and worked for the tribe since 1976.

He learned to read and write Cherokee syllabary at the age of 12. His dad was always sitting in the shade reading aloud songbooks or the New Testament.

Feeling credited his linguistic skills to standing near his father, watching him take out a pencil and guide him through root words in the Cherokee language.

“Durbin Feeling was our modern-day Sequoyah, a Cherokee National Treasure who was the very first person chosen to sign our Cherokee Language Speaker’s Roll because he was so cherished by our first-language speakers and the entire tribe. Everything we are doing for language revitalization is because of Durbin,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “Durbin was also a dear friend to me and First Lady January, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and want them to know how deeply sorry our entire Cherokee Nation family is for this

Some of Feeling’s accomplishments include adding Cherokee syllabary on a word processor in the 1980’s.

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 by speakers today.

Credit: Cherokee Nation

“As Durbin called his language family to his bedside, he shared one final charge: ‘Every day, just keep speaking Cherokee. If you do that, it will all be OK.’ Just as Durbin sculpted the landscape for Cherokee language revitalization work for generations to come, he also touched the heart of every language learner he encountered,” said Cherokee Nation Language Department Executive Director Howard Paden. “Though our hearts are devastated by Durbin’s passing, we are humbled by his generosity. In his honor, we will do our best to continue his work. History shall read that there was a man who was born among the Cherokee people, who stood up in the face of numerous adversities, who saw the future of the Cherokee people would be grossly at a disadvantage without its language, and who worked tirelessly to build tools and a vision for the better part of his life to prop up a language which was endowed by the Creator from the beginning of time, to serve the uniqueness of the Cherokee people. For this, the Cherokee people will forever be indebted to Durbin Feeling.”

In 2011, he was named a Cherokee National Treasure for advancing the Cherokee language and was the parade marshal at the Cherokee National Holiday in 2013.

“Most of our translators credit him for teaching them to read and write Syllabary,” said Roy Boney, manager of the tribe’s language translation team. “His Cherokee English Dictionary is the standard publication for Cherokee language reference with learners and speakers referring to it constantly. Any time we thought we had a new idea, I remember Durbin would dig in his archives and pull out a research paper or proposal he had already written for it.”

In 2019, through the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act, Chief Hoskin named the Durbin Feeling Language Center in Feeling’s honor. The future language center will house all three of the tribe’s language programs including its translation office, immersion school and Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program under one roof.

RELATED: Cherokee Nation creates department dedicated to preserving Cherokee language

“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. “Donadagohvi.”

Durbin was a Vietnam Veteran, having earned a Purple Heart and National Defense Medal, and was an ordained minister.



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