By Scott McKie B.P.
One Feather staff
“This is a dream come true,” George Byrd, a fluent speaker from the Cherokee Nation said prior to giving an opening prayer during the grand opening celebration of the New Kituwah Academy on Wednesday, Oct. 7. Byrd was one of four fluent speakers who offered opening prayers at Tuesday’s event including Cherokee Nation member Tom Belt and EBCI tribal members Wiggins Blackfox and Leroy Littlejohn.
The Academy, home to the Cherokee Language Immersion program, occupies the space where the Boundary Tree hotel once stood.
“Today is not a day of grand opening,” said former Tribal Council Chairman Dan McCoy who is also an Immersion parent. “This is a day of history. It is a resurrection of our language. We’ve got a language that’s been living since day one.”
McCoy added, “The children who attend are living proof that the language is alive.”
He also thanked the staff and teachers at New Kituwah. “We could not thank them enough for their love and their knowledge. For, they are true Cherokee heroes.”
Principal Chief Michell Hicks commented, “There’s been many people who have had a hand in this. It’s not about taking credit. It’s about taking pride.”
He said he thinks the Tribes has put its best foot forward with the project. “I think that we’ve made a full circle. I’m just glad to have been just a small part.”
Renissa Walker, Kituwah Preservation and Education Program manager, told the story of a young Cherokee girl who had to go through the boarding school experience where she was not allowed to speak her language. “Slowly, Tribes across the country are losing their fluent speakers.” She said there are fewer than 300 fluent speakers left with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
“If we lose our language, we cease to exist as Cherokee people,” said Walker who added that the New Kituwah Academy is working diligently to make sure that never occurs. “Today, we have come full circle.”
George Wickliffe, Chief of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee (OK), is a fluent Cherokee speaker and said that the language is probably the most difficult in the world. “It is not easy,” he said adding that probably 65-75 percent of his fellow tribal members speak and/or understand Cherokee.
“We are not going to lose our language,” said Chief Wickliffe who added his full support to any language efforts of the EBCI. “Just call on us and we will come. We will save our language.”
Joyce Dugan, former Principal Chief and current Cherokee Central School system superintendent, said of the New Kituwah Academy, “We have to do the reverse of what the boarding school did, and that’s what they’re doing.”
Albert Crowe, EBCI Deputy Administrative Officer, related the division, of which the Academy falls under, would like to thank Tribal Construction and Tribal Sanitation departments for their hand in the Academy’s construction. “We wanted to recognize them for all of the hard work on this project.”
He commented he would also like to recognize Brandon Stephens, EBCI Building Construction manager, and his staff for their work. “They were a key part in the project and helping us to get into the building.”
Stephens, who also served as emcee for the event, told the crowd a brief history of the Boundary Tree property. He said the business was the first building of economic development in Cherokee.
“Today, it will stand as a new era.”