Cherokee Nation To Expand Language Preservation Program

Tuesday, December 8th 2020, 6:24 pm

The Cherokee Nation is expanding a program that focuses on preserving the tribe’s native language.

In the past, only about four people have graduated a year from the program, but now they are quadrupling that effort.

The Cherokee Nation is expanding the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program that focuses on preserving the tribe's native language. The tribe is now taking more applicants for the 2021 spring semester, all to select a group of Cherokee citizens to learn the entire language in just a few years. 

"We are losing dozens of fluent Cherokee-speaking elders a month. We are down to only 2,000 total fluent speakers. As these elders passed away, we not only went through a phase of panic but also a phase of depression," Wahde Mackey, program manager for the Cherokee Language Apprentice Program, said. 

"As we progressed and we focused on earning our language, it became easier for us to create a program to allow other people to learn the language," Mackey said. 

The program has been around for five years and pays Cherokee citizens to study the language for 40 hours, five days a week over two years. Mackey said starting in the spring they hope to start having up to 16 graduates a year, instead of what was previously four a year.  

"We believe if these efforts continue to expand, we will be successful and for the first time in my life I have hope that will be able to maintain the language," Mackey said. 

Mackey said historically the program has taken place in the classroom, but due to COVID-19, it is being taught online. Mackey said, despite the challenge, they are having more success and interest in the program.

Carolyn Swepston is about to graduate from the program next week and she hopes to one day teach the language at the Durbin Feeling Language Center once it's completed. 

"It's just made me hunger for more of the language. Even though it's a two-year program it's going to be a lifetime of language learning," Swepston said, "I would encourage any Cherokee citizen to apply for the program. It’s each of our duty to learn language and to carry that on and pass it on to future generations."

The deadline to apply is December 18 and you can find a link to apply here.