Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cherokee Language Instructor Gregg Howard Crosses Over

Sad News from Oklahoma…

Lari Howard from Tahlequah just notified me that her husband, noted Cherokee language teacher Gregg Howard, crossed over Thursday morning after a long bout with cancer. I had spoken with them by phone just a few weeks ago, and he was upbeat as ever.

The memorial service will be at Park Hill Presbyterian Church on Sunday, May 3 at 11:00. Another memorial will be held this summer in Dallas. If you make it to either, tell Lari that you’re my student, give her a big hug from me, and that

Gregg was from Central City, Kentucky, between Hopkinsville and Bowling Green, but had lived for years in Dallas, and more recently in Tahlequah. He appears on several of the Rich-Heape videos, including “Trail of Tears,” in which he portrays Sequoyah.

Over the decades, Gregg’s publications on Cherokee language and culture, as well as workd on Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and others, have reached tens of thousands, if not more. He called his company VIP, for Various Indian Peoples, but as far as anyone in the field cared, Gregg Howard was the VIP of Native American language education.

My cousins and friends, the number of fluent Cherokee speakers has dropped 20% in the past seven years alone. If you are interested in preserving our ancestral language, no matter whether it’s through or some other means, then please start today. Do something, don’t just think about it. Say something, anything, in Cherokee. Sing a song. Go to and follow along with the video. More songs will be added shortly.

We don’t have Gregg to lean on anymore like a walking stick. It’s time for you to stand up.

Brian Wilkes

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"You can be a warrior, or you can be a victim, but you can't be both."

Last week I sent a message about the rapid decline of fluent Cherokee speakers. I had my wake- up call when told that a group revising the Eastern Band constitution had trouble reading older printed constitutions well enough to understand the nuances of legal aspects – original intent, and so forth.

Monday, I had another awakening. The new PBS Series “We Shall Remain” lists on their web site the statistic that there are now fewer than 8,000 fluent Cherokee speakers

That means that despite the best efforts of tribal governments and schools, and dozens of people like me “crying in the wilderness” on the Internet, we’re losing ground quickly.

One speaker in the video sums it up: “There is no tomorrow.”

Go to any powwow, and you’ll hear Cherokee spoken - usually osiyo, wado, uh-huh, perhaps sgi, dohitsu and osda. You may even hear people singing “Wendeyaho” and thinking the words are Cherokee.

When I did live classes here in west Kentucky, I joked with United Keetoowah friends that I was also starting an advanced Cherokee course, “Beyond Osiyo”.

There’s a big difference between starting to learn a language and becoming fluent. Speak Cherokee Level One will not magically make you a fluent speaker. Duh, that’s why it’s called Level One.

So if you’ve been putting off starting the journey, remember, “There is no tomorrow.” isn’t just about learning the language; it’s about forming a community of students and speakers. One feature we offer is an exchange page, where we’ll promote the businesses of currently enrolled students. I’m also planning forum page when we reach a certain number of students.

I’m working to add more video instruction, including songs and prayers, to make the learning process as enjoyable as possible. PLEASE make suggestions; I don’t claim to have all the answers. I’m one person in a remote corner of Kentucky.

One of the Keetoowah teachers, Choogie Kingfisher, said that “WE are the new warriors, we who work to preserve the language and culture.” So I’m challenging you, don’t be a victim, don’t just be a student, but become a warrior. The language is LOSING ground – will you just sit there and watch it happen?

Brian Wilkes

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!


For those of you still in the holiday mood, here's your digital Easter Card

Here's a linguistic oddity: the word for offspring, seed, and egg are the same in Cherokee: Jesus is called God's uwetsi...

Does that make him the original Easter egg?

All the best,

Brian Wilkes