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Hoskin, Warner propose minimum $18M annual funding for Cherokee Nation Language Dept. efforts

Thursday, October 12, 2023 - Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. addressed the largest gathering of first-language and fluent Cherokee speakers in modern history on Tuesday and announced his and Deputy Principal Chief Bryan Warner’s intent to ask that the Council make the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act permanent.

Chief Hoskin’s remarks came during the Cherokee Nation’s First Language and Fluent Cherokee Speaker Gathering at the Durbin Feeling Language Center in Tahlequah.

The proposed legislation, if passed by the Council, would indefinitely authorize the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act, which was signed into law in 2019 and is currently set to expire in 2024. If approved, the Act would provide the Cherokee Nation Language Department with an $18 million operating budget at minimum each year.

“The Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act is moving us in the right direction. It has placed us all squarely on a shared mission to revitalize our language and culture,” Chief Hoskin said. “It is producing results and instilling hope. The Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act has created an opportunity for generational change. As I said in my State of the Nation address at Cherokee National Holiday, we will fall behind if we stand still. And on this mission to save our sacred language, we will not fall behind.”

The legislation will call on the Cherokee Nation Language Department to propose steady increases to its annual operating budget based on sound strategic goals, effective programs and measurable outcomes.

“We’ve seen the tremendous progress that has been made since the signing of the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act in 2019, and Chief Hoskin and I recognize how important it is for our Nation to continue that progress by investing more in the revitalization of the Cherokee language,” Deputy Chief Warner said. “After all, it is our language that connects us to our ancestors, culture and lifeways. The loss of the Cherokee language is a loss of Cherokee existence, and that is why we are proposing that we organize anew around a mission to save our language now and make it vital for generations of Cherokees to come. Only our shared commitment to a mission to revitalize the Cherokee language will ensure success, and I believe it is a mission that is worth our best effort.”

If approved by Council, the permanent Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act would call for major capital investments, including the construction of a $30 million Cherokee Nation immersion middle school in Tahlequah, and the expansion of the Cherokee Nation’s immersion program into more Cherokee-speaking communities.

Chief Hoskin also signed a directive on Tuesday to identify opportunities for language campus expansion via a group of advisors including Executive Director of Language Howard Paden, Chief of Staff Corey Bunch and Treasurer Janees Taylor. The group’s recommendations will be provided to Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner for incorporation into the proposed permanent authorization of the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act.

Since its signing into law in 2019, the Durbin Feeling Act has helped the Cherokee Nation commit $20 million to build the state-of-the-art Durbin Feeling Language Center and $18 million to open a new language campus in Greasy.

On top of tripling the Language Department’s operating budget since 2019, the Durbin Feeling Act has enabled the Cherokee Nation to more than double its full-time language workforce as well as double its number of full- or part-time contractors. The Act has also grown the tribe’s most promising language programs: in four years, the Cherokee Language Master/Apprentice Program has gone from seven apprentices to 29 and has graduated a total of 34 students in that time span.

The Cherokee Nation has also seen an increase in immersion school enrollment by over 36% across its Tahlequah and Greasy campuses with a total of 126 students currently enrolled.

The Cherokee Nation has also experienced growth in its number of community language students to 850 and online students to about 6,000 per year.

“The late Cherokee linguist Durbin Feeling believed in the idea that we should be truly immersed in the Cherokee language on a daily basis, and that is a concept he spent so much of his life working on,” Language Department Executive Director Howard Paden said. “Today we see the impact of his work and of the work of so many Cherokees who have dedicated themselves to this vital mission of perpetuating our precious language.”

The Language Department also launched its Speaker Services program, which has impacted nearly 600 households with roof repairs, ramp installations, utility bills, plumbing, minor home repairs and more in the last several years. Speaker Services has also provided over 1,000 essential home appliances and replaced 30 homes for fluent Cherokee Speakers.

Cherokee Council Speaker Mike Shambaugh addressed the gathering, pledging his support for continued language investment.

“The Council looks forward to reviewing Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner’s proposal later in the year, but I know we will be supportive of any initiatives that fund proven strategies and investments to revitalize the Cherokee language,” Speaker Shambaugh said.

Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner launched the inaugural fluent speaker gathering in 2019. The gathering was suspended during the COVID pandemic and returned last year with the opening of the Durbin Feeling Language Center. Language Department Executive Director Howard Paden announced that the gathering would continue as an annual event.

KXMX Staff Writer

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