TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma - The Chief of the Cherokee Nation announced plans to expand language programs with the goal of saving Cherokee for future generations.

A new $5 million dollar investment will go to expand the language immersion school, and move an apprentice program and translation services into one building. The old Cherokee Casino in Tahlequah will house language services, and be named for Durbin Feeling, the nation's premier living linguist.

The Nation hosted 450 native speakers Friday at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, believed to be the largest such gathering in the last century.

The Chief told the group in addition to the immediate investment, the tribe will add $1.5 million dollars to annual spending on language programs. The tribe is also creating a cabinet level position for a Secretary of Language, Culture and Community.

"We have to continue developing this and I think it's going to take even more resources in the future, but as far as turning the tide, I think we'll do that, but it is a daunting task" said Chief Hoskin, who said the tribe has about 2,000 members who spoke Cherokee before English.

76-year-old Winona Bolin, a Cherokee from Sallisaw, said when she was in grade school she couldn't speak the language because the teachers objected.

"We were whacked on the hand with a ruler because we spoke a language we weren't supposed to be speaking" she said.

She regretted losing some of her language ability because she and the other children couldn't speak it openly.

The tribe has a robust effort to record the language as it's currently spoken, and make a record of what native speakers remember. However, they also want to teach children to be native speakers, by first getting their parents to proficiency.

"What we're going to have to do is more than quadruple our number of learners and depend upon our second language learners to reach a higher level of proficiency. We have some who are near the proficiency of a native speaker, but not quite yet" said Ryan Mackey, a Cherokee curriculum specialist.