Preservation (language)

Andre Cramblit andrekar at NCIDC.ORG
Sun Apr 3 16:15:41 UTC 2005

NSU to help preserve language

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By SEAN KENNEDY, Press Staff Writer
Thursday, March 31, 2005 8:48 AM CST

Preservation of traditional tribal language has been an ongoing battle
for American Indian tribes across the nation for years.

"Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith, in one of the first
meetings I had with him after he was elected, told me we need to
address the preservation of the Cherokee language," said Northeastern
State University President Larry Williams. "He said we must save the
native language of the Cherokee people."

Thanks to the combined efforts of the Cherokee Nation and NSU, the
university will debut a new bachelor of arts in education in Cherokee
education this fall.

NSU and the Cherokee Nation made the announcement at a joint press
conference Tuesday morning at the Gene Branscum Alumni Center.

The program will prepare college students to teach Cherokee language
and culture for pre-K through 12th grade, with emphasis on speaking,
reading and writing the Cherokee language.

"It's a long and difficult process to get new programs approved by the
Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education," said Williams. "We got
approval of our program in record time. It usually takes three, four or
five years to get a new program approved."

NSU received the official seal of approval for the program in February.

John Ketcher, former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, said this
was an important step in preserving the traditional language and
culture of the Cherokee people.

"For years, the Cherokee ministers kept the Cherokee language alive in
their Sunday school classes," said Ketcher. "But now fewer and fewer
people are speaking the language. This program is a step in the right

Smith said that through the cooperative efforts of the university and
the tribe, a strong effort is being made to preserve the language of
the Cherokee people.

"We need to take a moment and acknowledge the greatness that is going
to come from the seed being planted here today," said Smith.

A 2002 survey conducted by the Cherokee Nation revealed that less than
7 percent of tribal members in northeastern Oklahoma could speak the
language. According to the Fishman Scale of Language Loss, the Cherokee
language is about two generations away from extinction.

"We always have to be mindful that this is a first step," said Smith.
"We need to develop 10,000 new speakers to keep the language alive.
This program is teaching teachers to teach the language and the vital
importance of the language to our culture. This will help bring our
language back from the edge of extinction to the grandeur that it once

The four-year program will start off with several basic courses offered
for students, Elementary Cherokee I, Conversational Cherokee I,
Intermediate Cherokee I, Cherokee Conversational Practicum and Cherokee
Cultural Heritage. During the course of pursuing their degree, students
will take a total of 40 hours in Cherokee language and culture, 40
hours in education, along with required core classes and electives.

"This is a great achievement," said Smith. "The Cherokee education
degree supports our long-range goal to revitalize the Cherokee
language. Young Cherokees want to learn their language, and by
certifying language teachers, we can give our kids the chance to study
their language in public schools, as well as at home. I thank our
education team for their research, and I commend the university for
recognizing the need for this degree."

Dr. James Pate, NSU vice president for academic affairs, said the
college and the Cherokee Nation have a long history of working
together, dating back to the university's inception in 1909.

To keep the program going, NSU must enroll 18 students by 2010, and
have several students graduate by the end of the 2009-2010 school year.

"Each of our students enrolled in the program will be provided with a
foundation in Cherokee language and culture," Pate said.

The new program will also mean new positions at NSU, with a full-time
program coordinator and at least two full time faculty members
teaching, with a possible third faculty member, Pate said.

Pate said the program at NSU will be a model for the nation because it
is the only one of its kind at a state university that offers a degree
to teach an American Indian language and culture.

Western Carolina University is also watching the program, as officials
there are considering creating a similar program for the Eastern Band
of Cherokees in North Carolina.

One of the challenges will be creating a job market for graduates
outside the bounds of northeastern Oklahoma, Pate said. But it's
something the university is studying.

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