North Carolina: Jackson Center to teach Cherokee

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Apr 1 15:46:38 UTC 2007

Forwarded from edling-list

Jackson center first in state to teach Cherokee language

By Jon Ostendorff jostendorff at March 30, 2007 12:15 am

WHITTIER A new classroom that will give students in Jackson County a place
to study Cherokee language and history is the first of its kind in North
Carolina, school and tribal officials say. The top elected leader of the
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians joined teachers and students at Smokey
Mountain Elementary this week to open the Wesley Powell Cherokee Heritage
Center. The center, located inside a new portable classroom on the schools
campus, is named for teacher Wesley Powell, who died in 2005 after
teaching at the school for about 11 months.

Although his time at the school was short, he had a big impact with his
encouragement for learning the Cherokee language. His wife, Anna Powell,
said her husbands lifelong dream was to pass on the Cherokee language.
Most of the tribes 13,500 members are not fluent Cherokee speakers. The
federal government spent generations eradicating the language with
mandated boarding-school education for the Cherokee. They were forced to
speak English and punished for speaking Cherokee. Powell said she wasnt
sure what to say at the dedication ceremony on Thursday, so she asked her
son why the language is important.

His reply was It is what makes us Cherokee, she told the school. Principal
Chief Michell Hicks echoed her comments when he talked about his own study
of the Cherokee language. He said he has been learning from a teacher for
several years and said she has not only taught him words, but an
appreciation for the tribes land and heritage. Hicks said Powell was
deeply committed to bringing that heritage to his students. It is sad that
he physically cant be here, Hicks said. But I know he is here. He was such
a dedicated man for helping students. I just really appreciate him. It was
a sad day when he left this earth, but we know today he is still smiling
on us.

Twenty-eight community sponsors, from individuals to big businesses like
Lowes and Wal-Mart, donated money or in-kind services and materials for
the center. The center costs about $50,000, said organizer Vangie
Stephens. Of that amount, $15,000 came from Tribal Council. The center
will serve 12 students a year on a first-come, first-served basis.
Stephens said the classroom is the only one in the state focused solely on
teaching an American Indian language.

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