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Translator Finds Important Part Of Cherokee Nation's History

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Portrait of Sequoyah. Portrait of Sequoyah.
Cherokee numbers created by Sequoyah. Cherokee numbers created by Sequoyah.
TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma -

The Cherokee Nation has reclaimed part of its history all thanks to man with a famous ancestor.

John Ross has rediscovered the Cherokee symbols for numbers originally developed by Sequoyah in the early 1800s.

John Ross knows a thing or two about the Cherokee language. He works in the tribe's translation department and recently made a discovery that's been missing for 191 years. 

Ross recreated the Cherokee symbols for numbers.

"Hits you right on your heart, yeah," said John Ross, translation specialist.

The symbols were originally developed by Sequoyah in 1821 when he created the Cherokee alphabet. The written language was adopted a few years later but the numerical symbols were abandoned until Ross spent two days doing research last fall.

"It was pretty hard to figure those out. He created numbers from one to a million and when I was working with these I noticed that there was no zero. So I created a zero using the 100 symbol and it's half of the 100 symbol," said John Ross.

The project was a labor of love for Ross and a way to connect to his ancestors. You see, Sequoyah is Ross' five times great uncle.

"To be able to figure these numbers out like my great-great-great-great-great uncle created is just overwhelming to me," said John Ross.

Ross hopes the tribe eventually develops a math book using the symbols.

Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker says they also plan to use the symbols at the tribe's Cherokee immersion school.

"The council, the chief that is part of our oath of office to perpetuate, to carry on, to protect the culture, the language, the heritage of the Cherokee people and people like John are making that possible," said Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker.

Ross says he can't wait for symbols to be passed on to the next generation.

"I think our young ones will really get excited it once we present these numbers to them," said John Ross.

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