West indian people

Teaching the Cherokee language to help the language and people to live

On the phone from Kansas, Oklahoma, Cherokee Nation Citizen Lawrence Panther speaks in his second language, English, explaining how he began teaching his first: Cherokee

“I almost lost it, my ability to speak,” Panther told Native News Online. Until third grade, Panther said he was fluent in Cherokee with his friends and family and had no knowledge of English at all. But from third grade in high school, he was immersed in English in the public school system and boarding school, and Cherokee was spoken less and less.

It wasn’t until he got home at the age of 25 that he realized he wasn’t able to roll his tongue when he tried to speak Cherokee. “I had to relearn my language,” he says.

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Today, he is one of 3,000 fluent speakers of Cherokee who remain after the language was nearly wiped out by residential schools and forced assimilation. Self-taught reader and writer, he shares the language with as many people as he can.

Panther led a free Cherokee language class on Saturday at the Museum of Native American History (MONAH) in Bentonville, Arkansas. It was the second in the museum’s quarterly “The Art of the Cherokee Language” series. In the first remotely broadcast session when the museum was closed for the pandemic last year, Panther reviewed the grammar and vocabulary of newbie Cherokee. Her weekend lesson focused on conjugations, according to museum director Charlotte Buchanan-Gale.

“It was a nice mix of people,” Buchanan-Gale, who attended the event on Saturday, told Native News Online. “There were people who had an Aboriginal heritage, others who did not. Some were Cherokee. It wasn’t just old people, there were also young people, ”she said.

Panther encourages anyone interested to join us. The date of the next event has not yet been set, but will likely be in early 2022.

“I think it’s very important that we continue to perpetuate our language and let the younger people know who they are, who we are,” Panther said. “The language takes a long time and a lot of people get discouraged from trying to learn it. I encourage everyone, everyone to learn.

In addition to language lessons, MONAH is also hosting a storytelling event from Chickasaw Nation member Amy Bluem later this month and a beginner flute workshop with Cherokee Nation flautist Gabby Nagel.

Learn more about MONAH events.

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Jenna kunze

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Editor-in-chief

Jenna Kunze is a reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. His signatures have been published in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Smithsonian Magazine and Anchorage Daily News. In 2020, she was one of 16 American journalists selected by the Pulitzer Center to cover the effects of climate change in the Arctic region of Alaska. Prior to that, she was a senior reporter for the Chilkat Valley News in Haines, Alaska. Kunze is based in New York.



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