Cherokee Nation graduates first speakers from new language program

January 16, 2017

Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program graduate Don Dugger receives a completion certificate during a special ceremony Saturday in Tahlequah.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After two years and 4,000 hours of studying the Cherokee language, the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program graduated its first two students on Saturday.

Cody Vann, of the Greasy community near Stilwell, and Don Dugger, of the Sour John community near Gore, each received a gorget, a Pendleton blanket and a certificate during a special graduation ceremony at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah.

The Cherokee Nation started the program two years ago to teach more young adults to be conversationally proficient Cherokee speakers and teachers. Participants receive a $10 per hour educational stipend and typically spend 40 hours per week immersed in the Cherokee language in the classroom.

“Well, in a way this program is kind of like rediscovering who you are. It’s different than I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be more like a school setting, but it’s not. It’s more like a home setting,” Vann said.

Vann is currently interning at the Cherokee Immersion Charter School and hopes to become a teacher there in the future.

“It’s always been my dream to be a teacher, and it’s always been my dream to speak Cherokee, and God has granted me both of them,” Vann said.

The program is operated by the Community and Cultural Outreach department. Participants are taught the language by fluent speakers Doris Shell, Cora Flute and Gary Vann. In addition to time spent with the master speakers, students are encouraged to visit Cherokee-fluent elders in order to learn and practice speaking the language. Students also visit community organizations and schools to showcase and teach the Cherokee language.

“As our fluent Cherokee speakers become fewer, it is vital for our tribe to formulate different strategies that will cultivate new speakers in order to keep our language alive and healthy,” said Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. “I commend the participants and staff of this program as well as the master speakers for their work to preserve and grow our language.”

Program officials expect to graduate four more students from the language program next year and eight students in 2018.

For more information on the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program, call the Cherokee Nation Community & Cultural Outreach office at 918-207-4950.