By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
There are around 240 Cherokee speakers among the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians according to officials at New Kituwah Academy. One Tribal Council representative hopes that providing incentives for learning the language will help in its preservation.
“Over the years, I know that we’ve lost a lot of our speakers, and that’s what defines us as Cherokee people, in my mind, as well as the culture and everything that goes with it,” said Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha whose father, former Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Abe Wachacha is a first language Cherokee speaker.
Rep. Adam Wachacha introduced a resolution in the regular session of Tribal Council on Thursday, June 2 calling for the Cherokee Language Speakers Consortium Group to develop an incentive-based program offered to EBCI tribal members to learn the language. The legislation was passed by a unanimous vote, and the Consortium is tasked with bringing a plan back to Tribal Council within six months.
“We incentivize a lot of different things in this Tribe,” said Rep. Adam Wachacha who related he is seeking ideas from everyone of how best to implement this program to “better incentivize our own people to learn from the speakers that are left”.
He went on to say, “I really enjoy going to play ball down at Choctaw (Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians) because all that you’ll hear is their language. It’s throughout their whole land, and that’s a part of us that’s been lost. You just don’t hear it no more, and when you can hear it, it touches your heart because it’s heartfelt and you know that’s who we are.”
Myrtle Driver, EBCI Beloved Woman and first language Cherokee speaker, related that the New Kituwah community mobilization coordinator asked various communities what programs they would like brought in. “At the top of the list was language, except for one community that wasn’t interested in language. But, we started in Big Cove and we had nine to complete a six-week language course, and we’ll be taking it to the communities. Yellowhill is our next community where we’ll be taking this language class to.”
She added, “The Cherokee language is not an easy language to learn. Anyone that takes language classes, I admire them. It’s not a language that you can learn overnight. Not only are we teaching the language, but we’re including the old traditions.”
Vice Chief Richard G. Sneed thanked Rep. Adam Wachacha for bringing forth his legislation and commented, “I had the privilege of going to the Speakers Consortium in Tahlequah (Okla.) back several months ago…they are incentivizing their young people in that they pay them a salary basically to go to school to learn the language. I really felt like that was something that we need to use so I appreciate you bringing that, and Myrtle is absolutely correct, it is a difficult language to learn. But, I was so impressed with these young adults who were 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds who were speaking the language and carrying on conversations. The Cherokee Nation basically put their money where their mouth was and said they are serious about preserving the language, and I think we need to do the same.”
Painttown Rep. Marie Junaluska, herself a first language Cherokee speaker, commented on the incentive program idea, “I think it’s a good one, and I think it’s doable. And, it will happen.”