Cherokee Language Revitalization

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Language is perhaps the most defining feature of human nature, and it is the human ability to communicate thoughts, feelings, and experiences that serves as the foundation for cultures across the world. Language is intrinsically tied to a sense of self—determining with whom we are able to interact with on a person-to-person basis, what knowledge and media we are able to consume, and linking us to past and present communities that share our language.
Furthermore, language helps to construct communities and preserves origins, particularly in reference to place. For example, each of the six Iroquoian-speaking tribes of the Haudenosaunee has a unique name which evokes a knowledge about the defining characteristic of each tribe (Harris & Johnson
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Principle Chief Smith declared the language to be in a state of emergency and the Cherokee Nation Language Department began developing the Cherokee Language Revitalization Project, which aimed to preserve the language through young generations and to revitalize the language as a part of Cherokee community life. Through the Revitalization project, children have been introduced to language immersion beginning at pre-school, and adults have access to some community-based secondary language learning classes. Furthermore, the project has also facilitated gatherings of fluent elderly speakers who help to preserve the language by providing the stories and lexicon that become the basis for language learning curriculum (CherokeePreservation). Much of the project is focused on creating native speakers out of children to preserve the language into perpetuity. This sort of thinking is highly representative of the Cherokee mindset where it is “custom to consider the welfare of the next seven generations in all the decisions [they] make” (Walking Stick…show more content…
For the younger generation of Cherokee, the language holds the power to help establish a better sense of self and to construct one’s own authentic Indian identity. For example, a parent of a child in the immersion school program described interactions with the language as a means of social rejuvenation.,” Some Cherokee such as this man have taken control of their own identities by “embracing Cherokee-ness through language and culture” (106). For him and others, “being Indian became a verb and was more about what one does—on the weekends, with family, with parents, with friends—as a way of life” (107). Thus, the revitalization of the Cherokee language provides for a restoration of pride in Native identity and opportunities to reconnect with cultural traditions and behaviors. As Kay Walking Stick describes in her writing on the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, many Cherokee today are descended from those Cherokee who didn’t sign the Curtis Act and thus are unable to prove tribal membership in the eyes of the federal government (CITE). Despite not having legal status as Indians, these Cherokee people may hold onto their identities through the continuation of cultural practices such as speaking the
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