By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
A building has been designated to house a Cherokee language immersion program in the Snowbird Community. Tribal Council passed Res. No. 208 (2018), which designates the building located adjacent to the current Snowbird Day Care Center as the Snowbird Community Language and Cultural Arts Center, by a vote of 11-0 (Rep. Wahnetah absent) during its regular session on Thursday, May 3.
“Lately, I’ve been speaking with a lot of people that speak the language fluently, and they still feel that we’re not doing enough to save our language, especially in our community,” said Tribal Council Chairman Adam Wachacha who submitted the legislation. “What we were hoping is to identify that building as the Snowbird Language and Cultural Arts Center and to try to give that full immersion to those kids at the day care the way that we did at Dora Reed in the beginning.”
Chairman Wachacha noted there are only a little more than 200 fluent Cherokee speakers left in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. He commented that language immersion combined with family involvement is the best way to help save the language. “I think many times where we miss the mark is that the kids can get the immersion all day long, but until it’s implemented at home then we’re not getting to the point where we wanted to.”
Prior to the vote on the issue on Thursday, Sally Arch, Tribal Council Indian Clerk, translated the legislation into the Cherokee language.
Afterwards, Chairman Wachacha said, “I apologize Sally that I didn’t understand a lot of that, but I did pick up on a few words from what I learned growing up, and I guess that’s the heartburn I have is that I wasn’t able to learn the language like my dad and my uncles and I wasn’t able to pass it along to my children.” He added that if people can get a higher education then they can learn the language.
EBCI Beloved Woman Myrtle Driver brought up the point that formerly it was required that parents of students at the New Kituwah immersion school take Cherokee language classes. “I don’t know what happened. They don’t do that anymore.”
Chairman Wachacha echoed her sentiment, “I wish they did because that’s where it needed to happen too was at home so the kids could hear it all the time.”
Vice Chief Alan B. Ensley said he will follow-up on the parental language requirement. “I think this is an excellent resolution Mr. Chairman you submitted. I’ve been in the Snowbird Community quite a bit over the last couple of months. They are very proud to be able to speak our language like they do down there…we all need to get more motivated to learn more and learn how to speak.”
Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle commented that it would be a good idea for Tribal Council representatives to take language classes as well. “We don’t want the language to die out, and it probably won’t die out because we’re doing a great job at Dora Reed and (New) Kituwah.”
Chairman Wachacha, whose father, former Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Abe Wachacha, is a first language Cherokee speaker, introduced legislation that was passed in 2016 for the Tribe to offer incentives for those wishing to learn and teach the language. The Cherokee Language Speakers Consortium Group has been tasked with developing that program.