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

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