First Language: the Race to Save Cherokee excerpt
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First Language: the Race to Save Cherokee excerpt


We are, in a common English speech, called “Kituwah”. The word originates from the word “Giduwagi”. Throughout the past 200 years, we have been
under threat of losing our identity that’s always been anchored by our language. Efforts are now being made to revitalize and
re-establish our language as OUR first language. I don’t think we have 200 people that speaks
the Cherokee language out of 14,000. Now there’s 14,000 members. In the beginning there were only, I’ll say
1200. I hear a different number of how many people
escaped the Trail of Tears removal. All those people spoke the Cherokee language
in those days. It’s kind of hard to understand from an outsider
perspective, you know. How in the world could any nation lose their
language. Well, but if you go back and think about the
travesty that occurred where, you know, the federal government was attempting to wash
the native out of the Native people, there was some serious harm done. Children were taken from their homes, sent to boarding
schools that were, you know, far far away and when the children spoke their language
or practiced their traditions, they were punished for it. They were doing away with our language so
we could speak English. So it was sort of punished out of them. They didn’t want to do it anymore and since
they went through so much with them speaking it, they didn’t teach their kids. There’s others who began to see English learning
as a way to survive within the community and how the community and Cherokee was changing. Seeing the speakers and the exchange between
the speakers and how they came alive when they spoke the language is, is whenever I
saw that speaking Cherokee wasn’t something that they just did. That they lived for the moments to go back
to their mother tongue that, you know, the language that their parents spoke to them
as children. We believe this identity, this sound, was
given to us by the Creator. It is to distinguish us, it is to mark us
from all other peoples. In order to maintain that we have to continue
to make the same sound. Last year we had under 260 fluent speakers
and we can look at the newspaper every week as it comes out and we circle the names of
the people that we lost that are fluent speakers. And we used to average, the average in 2005
was that we were losing three fluent speakers every two months. Language is, I mean it’s really the identity
of who we are and so over the last nine years we’ve created a language academy with full-time
teachers and full-time administrator over the school that basically Cherokee’s the first
language. We probably won’t ever have what we had with
our great-great grandparents with the language they used and all of that knowledge. But we’re trying to rebuild it so we can pass
it on. Atse Kituwah Tsunadeloquasdi, New Kituwah Academy is a total immersion program. We presently have over 70 children enrolled. Over 30 of those are in the early childhood
birth to five program. And then we go into elementary and we have
roughly 40 students that are in kindergarten through third grade. And as that oldest cohort progresses, we add
a grade each year. So those ones that have stayed with us and
blazed the trail, they’re the third graders now So we’re adding fourth grade next year, fifth
grade the year after that, and then they will be ready to go to middle school wherever they
may choose to go. One of the unique components about our school
is the certified teachers in the typical English school would be the lead teacher in a classroom
and then they have an assistant. At our school it’s flipped on it’s head. So the certified teachers become the teacher’s
assistants. We do the paperwork, we do the lesson planning,
but the real teacher is the fluent speaker. It’s like that in every classroom.There’s
at least one fluent speaker for every classroom and all of those speakers come from different
communities, they come from different backgrounds, but they’re all here for that common purpose
because they have that just need to get that language back with the kids.

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2 thoughts on “First Language: the Race to Save Cherokee excerpt

  1. My g g grandmother taught my g g grandfather how to speak Cherokee! Sgt. Charles Fleetwood led a 1,000 man Indian Home Guard out of Fort Gibson!
    Lu Se Buffalo met him there after the "Trail of Tears"! I have learned a few words but it is very difficult to understand the grammer rules therein!

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