By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
A little more than two years after the three federally recognized tribes of Cherokee people declared a state of emergency for the Cherokee language, a new agreement has been signed to help with preservation efforts. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Nation, and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians have entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with Western Carolina University (WCU).
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed and Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed the agreement, along with WCU Chancellor Dr. Kelli R. Brown, at the beginning of the Kituwah Celebration, held at the Kituwah Mound site on the evening of Friday, July 23. The leadership of the United Keetoowah Band will sign the agreement at a later date.
“This is an historic day today, and we’re in an historic place – the Mother Town of the Cherokee, Kituwah,” Chief Sneed told the crowd gathered for the Kituwah Celebration. “This place is the birthplace of our people, but the key component to every people, the key component to their identity is their language. And, as a result of the federal policies of the United States government, many tribes have lost their language forever.”
He went on to say, “We’re very fortunate today, both out in Oklahoma with the United Keetoowah Band and the Cherokee Nation and here at home with the Eastern Band, to still have Cherokee speakers.”
Chief Sneed then asked all Cherokee speakers and second language learners to rise and be recognized by the group, and he also praised the work of WCU on language preservation. “Thank you so much for all that the university does. They recognize first the sacredness of the land on which the campus resides. Thank you for the land acknowledgement. Thank you for recognizing that it is sacred ground, and thank you for always making Cherokee culture and language a key part of the curriculum and a priority at the university.”
Chief Hoskin Jr. commented, “To that vital mission that we have – to save the Cherokee language – there is so much that our tribes are doing and doing well. We are leaders, across our three tribes, when it comes to business, aren’t we? We’re leaders when it comes to health care. We’re leaders in educating a new generation of young people to take up leadership tomorrow. We are leading in conquering problems surrounding housing and poverty. We are leaders. That much is true, and I think in generations we will continue to be leaders…”
He added, “But, that is not enough my friends, my fellow Cherokees. If we lose what it means to be Cherokee. If we lose our lifeways, if we lose our culture, if we lose our precious language around which all of our cultures and lifeways exist – if we lose that, we will have lost what makes us unique. There are a lot of governments and entities that can conquer problems in poverty, they can establish health care systems, they can run businesses and run casinos and run schools. There are lots of entities that do that, but the only people that can save the Cherokee language are the Cherokee people and good friends like Western Carolina University. We are committed to save the language because we’ve got to save the Cherokee people.”
Chief Sneed read the MOA officially titled “Memorandum of Agreement for Cherokee Language, History, and Culture” which states that the four entities “desire to engage in collaborative projects” and “expand opportunities for and by faculty, staff, students, and their respective communities”.
The MOA calls for the creation of a strategic plan “which will include Cherokee language, history, and culture” and “the sister tribes and WCU will work collaboratively to develop and share curriculum, assessments, future training, and other resources developed by all respective parties”.
The sharing of information within the four entities and outwardly is a main component of the MOA which also calls for quarterly meetings to be held to check on the progress within each area. An annual public report on the progress is also mandated in the agreement.
The agreement also establishes the “Teach What You Know, Share What You Learn” delegation comprised of “members of each of the sister tribes who work with the language, culture, and history departments and two representatives from WCU”. Collectively, the three tribes will appoint seven people to the delegation and WCU’s two will make it a nine-person group.
The MOA will be up for re-evaluation at every year’s Tri-Council meeting.