TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation has been awarded a grant worth up to $900,000 over the next three years from the United States Department of the Interior to help the tribe continue to perpetuate the Cherokee language.

The Living Language Grant Program will expand the duties of the existing Teacher Bridge project, which was created to increase both learner proficiency and professional skills for Cherokee Language Master/Apprentice Program graduates as they become Cherokee language teacher candidates.

The tribe received an initial $300,000, with additional funding every year for two additional years based on funding appropriations from Congress.

“An important part of preserving and celebrating our shared Cherokee heritage is by creating a new generation of Cherokee speakers who can continue to perpetuate the language and teach others about how to speak it,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “The Cherokee Language Master/Apprentice Program and our immersion schools are prime examples of how we’re showing our commitment to keeping our language alive for future generations. These grant funds will bolster our work and support the historic, ongoing language efforts we have undertaken, including the recent permanent reauthorization of the historic Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act.”

Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner recently proposed, and the Council of the Cherokee Nation later approved, making the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act permanent with an $18 million operating budget at minimum each year. The Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act was introduced by Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner and approved by the Council in 2019 to provide millions of dollars for language preservation efforts. It became the largest language investment in the tribe’s history.

The new grant funding from the federal government will allow the tribe’s Teacher Bridge staff and candidates to use what they garner from the Teacher Bridge program to create training curricula and materials and provide instruction through professional development to teachers in the Cherokee Language Department. The program will focus on, but not be limited to, Cherokee Language Immersion School teachers and CLMAP instructors.

“We have put historic sums and initiatives into saving our language, and we see the fruits of that labor at each CLMAP graduation ceremony or in the halls of our immersion schools,” Deputy Chief Bryan Warner said. “To revitalize our precious language, we must continue to put resources toward these efforts. That means we will continue to seek out all available resources, including grants such as this.”

Teacher Bridge is a competitive two-year program for CLMAP graduates or advanced-level Cherokee speakers who want to be professional teachers. The curriculum is comprised of second-language acquisition research, cultural teachings, and post-graduate level academic articles on education, all translated into Cherokee. Teaching methodology and core concepts are discussed in Cherokee by first-language Cherokee speakers and second-language learners.

The goal of Teacher Bridge is to increase program participants’ Cherokee language proficiency while increasing their academic knowledge and teaching skills.

“The Cherokee Language Department couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity,” said Howard Paden, Cherokee Nation Language Department Executive Director. “This grant will give us the much-needed opportunity to hone in on the improvement of language skills and teaching methodologies of second-language, Cherokee-speaking staff. This higher capacity of our future Cherokee language teachers will ensure a better tomorrow for the future of the Cherokee language.”

The Cherokee Nation established the Cherokee Language Master / Apprentice Program in 2014 to teach adults to be proficient, conversational Cherokee speakers and teachers. Participants receive an hourly educational stipend and typically spend 40 hours per week for two years immersed in the Cherokee language with master-level, fluent Cherokee speakers.

In November 2022, the tribe celebrated the opening of the new $20 million Durbin Feeling Language Center in Tahlequah, which houses all of the Cherokee Nation’s growing Cherokee Language programs under one roof. The state-of-the-art facility was funded through the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act.

For more information on the Cherokee Language Department and its programs, visit Cherokee Nation Language Department.