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The Cherokee Language in the 21st Century

Updated: Mar 3

Welcome, all, to a new age in human history! Between 2022 and 2032, the United Nations General Assembly declared the next ten years as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages to promote awareness of the critical status of Indigenous languages and encourage preservation, revitalization, and promotion around the globe (UN). Such action could not have arrived soon enough as it is estimated that around 175 Native American Languages are currently spoken, and by 2050, only 20 shall remain (UNESCO, 2022).

Click here for more information on the online Cherokee Language Course!

These languages are some of the last remaining pieces of Native American cultures, and without immediate action, disastrous consequences could unfold upon the identities and sovereignties of Indigenous Nations.

For many, language is simply a tool for communication and nothing more than a way to express complex thoughts and emotions. Many of us, as Native Americans, have heard comments such as, "We should all speak the same language, it would be easier” or “You are a conquered people, and lost the war, so why save it”. Such comments are ignorant because in reality, for Native Americans, language is so much more. There have been 500 years of persecution, degradation, and being told that one's culture is less than, yet the language continued to endure and in itself transformed into an identity validating tribal and cultural sovereignty. Many Native American nations, especially the Cherokee, entail a deep connection to the past. The relationship to history creates a continuous dialogue with our ancestors, allowing the present and future generations to learn and grow from the knowledge of their forebears. Such a connection to the language and to our ancestors gives us the strength to charge fearlessly into the heart of the storm like the mighty buffalo, just as the great Chief Wilma Mankiller once said. Moreover, our language is an unyielding reminder that we, as one people, are still present.

A great deal of work has been committed to preserving the Cherokee language in the last 20 years. In 2001, the Cherokee Immersion program was founded, starting a new age of Cherokee language revitalization. Eleven years later, nine students completed the program, the first graduating class from the Cherokee immersion school. On October 29th, 2021, the Cherokee Nation announced that a second Cherokee Immersion campus would open (Bark, 2021). We have come a long way from the time our parents and grandparents were beaten by educators for speaking their ancestral tongue to the outstanding achievements that have been put forward. Yet, there is still much work to be done as many Cherokee citizens who wish to establish a relationship with their culture reside outside the Nation's boundaries. This geographic divide has created a bridge between our people preventing access to the necessary tools to connect with their homeland. However, thanks to the dedication of our speakers both young and old, there are now language learning opportunities available.

Cherokee PINS is proud to announce the release of the first in a series of Cherokee language courses partnered with 7000 Languages, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating online language courses for indigenous and minority groups.

The course was created with the help of volunteers from the Cherokee PINS Project Foundation, Cherokee Nation Council Member Dr. Julia Coates, Dr. Brad Montgomery Anderson, and former Council Member Mary Baker Shaw. The first courses in the series will teach the Cherokee syllabary and beginning Cherokee using the technology provided by the international language platform Transparent Language. The project offers a new way to access Cherokee language learning tools, and each course is guided by Cherokee National Treasure David Scott and Cherokee speaker Sean ᏙᏧᏩ Sikora.

Through programs like this, tribal citizens can learn, speak and hear Cherokee and create a relationship with their ancestral past. The Cherokee Language Course presents a new age of Cherokee language preservation, learning, and connection.

Click here for more information on the online Cherokee Language Course!


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