Given the low number of fluent Cherokee speakers in relation to the population (180 fluent speakers out of a population of 15,000 Cherokee in the Eastern Band), there is some fear that the language will die out. According to Renissa McLaughlin, the tribe’s director of youth and adult education, many fluent speakers “have passed on or don’t have college degrees,” that would allow them to teach the language. This legislation attempts to fix that: “Under the legislation, the state superintendent would recommend teachers to the state board of education. If approved, they would be trained and teach only language and cultural classes.” Those who attend these classes will be able to use these language courses toward their college-entrance requirements.
Language preservation, to McLaughlin, is cultural preservation: “For Natives across the country, saving the language is the last thing that we have that identifies us as a Cherokee… We are a group of people. It’s a birthright and having students understand [that] this is who you are."
The preservation of marginalized languages is of the utmost importance for select communities, especially those whose culture is directly influenced by the conservation efforts put forth by individual states and, sometimes, by concerned individuals.
In a similar fashion, a joint venture by Miami University and the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma have created the Myaamia Center in a two-pronged effort to conserve and celebrate the Myaamia language. Through “research, education, and outreach,” the Center conducts “ in-depth research to assist tribal educational initiatives aimed at the preservation of language and culture” and wished to “expose undergraduate and graduate students at Miami University to tribal efforts in language and cultural revitalization.”
As members of TWIN-CS, we are pleased to see marginalized languages receive recognition and hope to see more such programs that promote the sustainment of one’s language and culture in the future.
-Melissa Hoppie, Graduate Student Researcher