The Cherokee Nation announced on Friday the largest language investment in the tribe’s history.
The Durbin Feeling Cherokee Language Preservation Act would provide $16 million for a new language center, ongoing programming and a new Cabinet position within the tribal government’s administration, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said Friday at a celebration of Cherokee language speakers.
“Now is the time to be bold and act quickly so we do not fail the legacy of our ancestors or the future of our Cherokee speakers,” Hoskin said in a written press statement. “We have focused on health care and economic development, and we have seen immeasurable achievements, but now we must also focus on saving our Cherokee language as another high priority.”
The Cherokee Nation currently has identified about 2,000 first-language Cherokee speakers.
The tribe already invests more than $6 million annually in its language department. Currently, that includes the Cherokee Immersion Charter School, the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program, which is an adult language immersion program for novice learners, and a radio show called “Cherokee Voices, Cherokee Sounds.”
Durbin Feeling, a Cherokee linguist who wrote the Cherokee-English dictionary, is considered the most significant contributor to the Cherokee language since Sequoyah, who created the Cherokee syllabary. Feeling has worked at the Cherokee Nation since 1976.
The Durbin Feeling Act passed a Tribal Council committee on Thursday and heads next to a vote of the full Council of the Cherokee Nation.
The measure would create and fund a Cabinet-level position for a secretary of language, culture and Community in the chief’s administration.
It also calls for the investment of an additional $1.5 million per year for five years in Cherokee Nation Businesses dividends for language program operations, with an option to reauthorize after the fifth year.
The most significant investment will be in the creation of the Durbin Feeling Language Center in Tahlequah. It will house the Cherokee Immersion Charter School, the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program and the tribe’s team of Cherokee translators together under one roof.
“The Cherokee language, I believe, is the soul of the Cherokee people. It is the source of our pride and our strength as a tribe,” Deputy Chief Bryan Warner said in a written press statement.
“The investments we are making in our language programs are meant not only to preserve the Cherokee language today, but to encourage us as Cherokee people to embrace our language and to use it for many generations into the future.”
Cherokee Nation Businesses’ former casino building in Tahlequah, valued at $3.8 million, will be transferred to the Cherokee Nation, and an additional $5 million from Cherokee Nation Businesses’ dividends will be spent to renovate and expand the facility.