Thursday, March 29, 2012

RIP Walker Calhoun, 1919 - 2012

Walker Calhoun, "Beloved Man" of the Eastern Band, returned to his heavenly home Wednesday morning at his home in Big Cove. He will be buried Saturday at the family cemetery, with Rev. Bo Paris of the Pentecostal Church officiating.  

Walker and his late wife Evelyn were always very kind to me and freely shared their knowledge. His passing - and hers! - are a great loss to all.

Among my prized possessions are two of the baskets she made in the last months of her life, and one of Walker's blowguns and an assortment of darts.

At 93, Walker was a major tradition bearer of the old Cherokee ways, especially ceremonial songs and dances. Born in 1919 into the Big Cove community in western North Carolina’s Qualla Boundary, Calhoun was the nephew of Will West Long, who was the spiritual leader and dance leader of Big Cove and a primary informant for Smithsonian ethnologist James Mooney. 

In the early 1990's he revived the Stomp Dance in NC, creating the first recognized Cherokee stomp ground east of the Mississippi. (Last I heard, it's still the only one.)

For many years, Mr. Long was the last carrier of much of the traditional knowledge of the Eastern Cherokees, and despaired of finding someone with the interest and commitment to carry that burden after him. When Mr. Calhoun returned from his WW2 army service, he shouldered that burden, and in turn despaired of finding others willing to carry it on. 

That began to change, I'm told, in the 1990's. The younger generation wanted to learn the language again, and frustrated at the lack of access, began to buy teaching materials from Oklahoma. Shocked at hearing grandchildren speaking Cherokee "wrong," pressure was brought for language instruction, which continues today.  
This raises a question... what are YOU waiting for? Saturday is the last day of the Speak Cherokee Spring Special, giving you access to online audio/video instruction, testing, and interaction for the rest of the year.  Why? That's up to you. But the clock is ticking, so find your "why" before your "why" finds you!

Brian Wilkes

More Springtime Words

We continue with words associated with Springtime, including words associated with ceremonial prayers...

ga-ta: “new” fire, kindled after the “old” fire is extinguished

a-ya-sta-sgi: “old” fire, burning since the last new fire was kindled.

a-tsi-la: common word for fire

a-tsi-lv-sgi: flower, blossom, flame

i-tse: new

i-tse-i-yu-sdi:  fresh, green

se-lu-tsu-ni-ge-sdi-sdi: corn sprouting, the second major holiday, today called “New Corn” in English.

A-da-we-hi: Elders in the sense of culture carriers entrusted with important knowledge; day-keepers who understood the old Calendar and ceremonial cycle. Also used to mean angel, prophet. They were consulted on which would be the most auspicious days to schedule events.

A-ni-da-we-hi:  plural of adawehi

a storage building where all of the agricultural tools were kept for the community,


a-go-de-sdi: spade,


da-ga-lo-sti u-i-la-ta,
pointed stick, used to make hole for seedlings. It was considered offensive to tear off a large part of Our Mother’s skin with plows or tillers just to plant seeds, when a smaller hole would do.

Happy Planting!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Live Classes and Springtime Words


I had a request to resume live classes again. I stopped doing those five years ago, because no matter how we varied scheduling, the timing and distance was always inconvenient for somebody. But this one has me thinking…. it would be about 50 miles away, and... the request comes from an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma! So pardon me while I take a moment to pat myself on the back – despite all the sniping from the web whiners about what a thin-blood I am, somebody who knows what Cherokee sounds like thinks we’re doing a good job!

Words of Springtime! Part 1

A-nv-yi: March. Contracted form of “windy month”, it puns with “strawberry time,” since some plants sprout early.

Ka-won-ni: April. Usually translated “flowering,” it puns with the word for “duck,” since migrating ducks return.

: May. “They plant”

Nv-da i-gv-ga-yi:
first moon, the First New Moon of Spring holiday. This moon occurred March 22, and began the lunar month Nv-da a-tsi-lv-sgi (Flowering Moon).

go-ge-yi, ga-ga-i, gi-la-go-di: Spring

go-ga, go-gi: Summer

Hi-ga-yv-li Tsu-ne-ga: “Thou Ancient Whites”, ritual name for the ashes of a previous ceremonial fire. Ashes are preserved, and used to build the next fire; in that way, it is considered a continuation of the same fire.

Hi-ga-yv-li A-ni-gi-ga-u: “Thou Ancient Reds”, ritual name for the sacred fire and for the sun and ancient sun goddess/ancestress.

Spring Special – Ends Saturday! Full-access Speak Cherokee language instruction for the remainder of 2012, for $100. That’s an $80 savings!

Brian Wilkes 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cherokee Springtime and Planting Observances

In the old days, there were two New Year celebration, since summer and winter were seen as separate years.  The spring new year was known as Green Grass, because it was seen to be the first New Moon after the first Green Grass. For that reason, it is sometimes called First New Moon. The new moon begins the Cherokee month, and Thursday began the lunar month of Atsilvsgi, 'Flowering'. Over the next two weeks, different Cherokee communities will celebrate the return of spring and summer with seed blessings and planting ceremonies. 

The new moon that begins the autumn-winter season is simply called Nvdadequa, 'Great New Moon.'

Although holidays were usually keyed to new moons, they were usually not celebrated until the following full moon (kalinvda). In this case, April 5-6 would be an appropriate observance date, since April 5 is a Critical Day as well as  Flower Day, and April 6 is the full moon and a Turtle Day, the start of a new cycle. All this to say that planting is part of the Cherokee identity - this year, plant something, even a Chia Pet!

Just a quick note today…full-access Speak Cherokee language instruction for the remainder of 2012, for $100. 

Just click this link to get started!

Brian Wilkes

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy First Day of Spring!

Just a quick note today…

For Valentine’s Day, I offered you a special: full-access Speak Cherokee language instruction for the remainder of 2012, for $100. That was a $100 savings. 

A few takers, and a few said they wanted it. But weeks went by. I finally asked what was wrong. seems some people haven’t gotten their tax refund checks as soon as expected.

I understand. Sometimes things occur that are beyond our control. I asked if they wanted me to offer it again. 


So here it is. I had originally intended this offering only for those who have previously been students, but since I know only too well how rough the economy is these days, I’ll open it to anyone interested, anywhere in the world.    

Just click this link to get started!  

This will only be up a few days, so don't be an "April Fool!"


“Friend” me on Facebook:

 “Like” the page on Facebook!!/pages/SpeakCherokeecom/106123549431075 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick's Day: Kinship, Bridge-Building, and Snake-Wrangling

     In the late 1990’s, I was part of a video link between boy’s high schools in Newark and Orange, New Jersey and Omagh in Ulster. Video links are a simple matter today, but back then, it was cutting edge - it took a tech team on either side of the pond, and we lost either the video or audio portion several times. 

     The event officially was to share story-telling. Unofficially, it was about overcoming decades of segregation and bigotry: racial in the US, religious in Ireland. The US kids were amazed that there could be segregation in Ulster, since they could see no visible difference between the Catholic and Protestant students in the “integrated” Ulster prep school. The Irish kids were likewise amazed that in America those who called themselves Catholic or Protestant would reject a co-religionist of a different complexion.

     One of the school administrators sat down next to me on camera, and said that he was also of Cherokee ancestry. He began speaking about the upcoming New Year celebration, and his mother’s recipe for Ceremony Stew. Few non-Cherokee would have known any of these details, so I had to accept him as legitimate. I then pointed out to both audiences that they now saw a man who appeared black and a man who appeared white, and that’s the way the greater society would always see us. But we were also Cherokee, and although we had just met, we regarded each other as cousins, would address each other in Cherokee as “cousin”, and would be welcome in each others’ home.  

     (The Irish knew the story of how the Choctaw, decimated and impoverished by their forced removal to Indian Territory (Oklahoma), had been so distressed by news of the Potato Famine starvation and death that they organized a collection drive and sent money to Ireland to help. That story is well-known in Ireland, but little-known in America.)

     I was there to share Cherokee teaching stories. To explain the breadth of Native American diversity, I joked that in America, we already knew everything about Irish culture. After all, on St. Patrick’s Day, the cable channels showed both “The Quiet Man” and “The Commitments.” That brought a laugh from Ireland!

Say It Loud, They're Black and Proud.

     “The Commitments” is Alan Parker’s 1991 film about a group of 20-something poor Dubliners who decide that since the world already treats them like n*gg*rs, the best thing to do is form an R&B group. 

     “The Irish are the blacks of Europe,” says would-be band leader Jimmy Rabbitte. “Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. North Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it loud, I am Black and I am proud.”

     But none of the characters are Black, none of them has ever met a Black American. They know Black America only from media. One band member tells stories about all the soul and rhythm & blues stars he’s played with… B.B. King, Martha and the Vandellas, and for all we know, he could be making it all up. None of his new followers has any way to check it out, because they don’t even know any Black Americans.

     The old Southern bluesmen and gospel singers said of the situation, “you gotta be laughin' to keep from cryin', gotta be singin' to keep from weepin'.” In Africa, the most desperately poor villages are full of the happiest music. In Native America, the music bubble up the surface almost without warning. In poetry, Ireland is called “The Land of Song”, perhaps for the same reasons.   

     Yet, by the end of the film the band has accomplished an important mission. They have given North Dublin a positive sense of identity, something to take pride in, and a sense that they may be able to endure their lives of struggle by learning from a distant people who have overcome. The Dubliners still don’t know and Black Americans, they aren’t organizing clothing drives or heating assistants for elderly blacks in America, and they aren’t claiming to be from a hidden tribe of Zulus stranded in Connacht. From the beginning, it was never about connecting with or helping Black America, and never pretended to be. 

     I think of it every time I see people who have just learned something about NDN history becoming strident, despite having few facts and little experience. The band's initial experiments are awful, as are those of many pick-up neo-NDN groups. These often seem like child-with-a-violin screech to the rest of us (like that ridiculously-large ‘medicine drum’ touring the world and other cultural abuses), but they are often born of a sincere desire to improve some aspect of life. We have to be adults and realize that they aren’t doing it to offend us, and probably aren’t doing it to please or pander to us. In fact, they probably don’t know us or even want to. But we can at least offer violin lessons to reduce the screech.  

      Unless that screech can drive the snakes out!

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig ar gach duine! 
May the Blessings of St. Patrick's Day be on each of you!

For my American friends: rent "The Commitments"
For my European friends: rent "Smoke Signals"

Friday, March 16, 2012

Italian Cherokee Student Passes Test, and a Note on Dialects


Mattia Reeder, a student from the area of Venice, Italy, has passed Test 2. Well done! Even though his recordings were technically correct, it’s strange and yet wonderful to hear Cherokee spoken with Italian pacing and inflection. ( FYI: I'm waiting to hear what his baritone voice can do with some of the hymns!)

That brings up a point.  The most frequent question I get is “Which dialect do you teach?”  The two remaining dialects are not that different, and more importantly, there are ten recognized sub-dialects, and MANY peculiarities within communities or families.

For example, my father would say “Much obliged” in place of “Thank you very much,” as if the additional thanks required  different words. This is not a difference of dialect, just an idiom, which passed on to me.  One older friend speaks the way his father did; the accent and inflection is so specific, I can tell which county his father as from. 

For the record, we teach the modern Western dialect, a merging of Middle and Overhill dialects. We do this simply because this is what most Cherokee today speak, and will give you the greatest number of potential friends to speak with.  But any fluent speak will immediately recognize that you didn’t grow up speaking the language, and that you “aren’t from around here.”

You can start today, in fact, by actually subscribing to the Speak Cherokee program for $20 per month:

THE 2012 CHEROKEE CALENDAR is still available

The YEAR 2012 PACKAGE is still very popular.

donadagohvi,  Until next time,  
nvwadohiyada!  may true peace and healing be with you!

Brian Wilkes

Immersion Course in June!

June 7-10 and 12-17:  Cherokee Language Immersion Course taught by Bo Taylor with Cherokee Elders, using TPR, Rassius, and Immersion Techniques. $500.

For more information contact:
Museum of the Cherokee Indian, P.O. Box 1599, Cherokee NC 28719
828-497-3481, Fax:  828-497-4985