Oklahoma Remembers Influential Cherokee Linguist Durbin Feeling

Tuesday, August 25th 2020, 6:25 pm
By: Amelia Mugavero


A beloved and influential Cherokee linguist was laid to rest on Tuesday.

74-year-old Durbin Feeling was known as one of the most significant contributors of preserving the Cherokee language.

Cherokee leaders said the funeral was not just about mourning the loss of Feeling, but also to celebrate a life dedicated to carrying the Cherokee culture.

"Durbin came along in the history when the language was in decline and saw that and he wanted to do something, and he committed his life to do something about it," said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.

Feeling is known as one of the largest contributors to the Cherokee language.

He authored the Cherokee-English Dictionary, and in 2018, Feeling co-wrote “Cherokee Narratives – A Linguistic Study,” which “contributes to the understanding and preservation of Cherokee language and culture.” He authored or co-authored 12 books, contributed to countless research articles on the language and taught it at the universities of Oklahoma, Tulsa and California.

Chief Hoskin Jr. said Feeling's work even reached people worldwide. 

"He's just such an impactful person, on his community, his family, and of course our nation --- the kind of impact will just go on for generations," Chief Hoskin Jr. said.

Howard Paden, Executive of the Cherokee Language Department, said Feeling saved the Cherokee language, thus preserving their nation’s identity.

"The language is one of the most import things to inherit,” Paden said. “To inherit that is to truly be Cherokee, and the idea of that slipping through our triggers and watching the elders that we see pass is not something we want to see.”  

Paden said Feeling’s work will continue impacting people for years to come.

"We've got a run ahead and catch up with the Durbin the best we can and make sure we don't lose this," Paden added.

In October 2019, the Tribal Council passed the Durbin Feeling Cherokee Language Preservation Act. Hoskin said the act’s $16 million investment should over time quadruple the Cherokee Language Master-Apprentice Program and establish a language program in the former Cherokee Casino Tahlequah that will become The Durbin Feeling Language Center, which will house all three of the tribe's language programs. The center set to open sometime next year.