TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation’s Cherokee Language Master/Apprentice Program graduated five students Aug. 25 during a special commencement ceremony at the Chota Center in Tahlequah.
Hillary Glass (ᏏᎾᏍᏓ), of Tahlequah; Melissa Watts (ᎵᏥ), of Bunch; Colleen Daugherty (ᏔᎳᏚ), of Sallisaw; Agalasiga Mackey (ᎠᎦᎵᏏᎦ), of Kenwood; and Taylor Armbrister (ᎠᏙᏫ ᏖᏜ), of Little Kansas, each received a plaque of completion during the ceremony.
“The Cherokee Nation and its people recognize that an important part of preserving and celebrating our Cherokee heritage is about creating a new generation of Cherokee speakers so that they can continue to perpetuate and teach others our beautiful language,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “I am proud of our language department at the Cherokee Nation for its unabating efforts to keep the Cherokee language alive, and the Cherokee Language Master/Apprentice Program is just one example of those efforts. We have put historic sums into saving the language, but it takes more than money to do so. It is accomplished through the Cherokee children enrolled in the Cherokee language immersion schools, through our translation department and our Cherokee elders, and it is accomplished through the adults who take up the calling and enroll in the master/apprentice program.”
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.
“Each CLMAP graduation ceremony reminds us that our Cherokee language is what leads us into the future and holds us together every day,” Deputy Chief Bryan Warner said. “It’s important to celebrate our graduates and the Cherokee language because when we hear our language, we hear the words of our ancestors. It’s part of what makes our tribe so special.”
Master speakers Gary Vann, Jerry Ross, Helena McCoy, Cora Flute, Joyce Green, Cindy Collins and Harry Oosahwee taught participants the Cherokee language in a classroom setting. In addition to classroom learning, students were encouraged to visit Cherokee-fluent elders in order to learn and practice speaking the language. The students also visited community organizations and schools to showcase and teach the language.
“I’m very thankful for Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner for having invested the extra resources needed to ensure we perpetuate our Cherokee language,” Cherokee Nation Language Department Executive Director Howard Paden said. “These graduates are vitally important to the survival of the language and will be afforded the opportunity to teach future generations as well.”
The program has now graduated 44 conversational, second-language Cherokee speakers since its first graduating class in 2016.
CLMAP graduate Taylor Armbrister said the program provides an environment that fosters and isolates language skills for all students.
“You’re surrounded by Cherokee speakers and other learners. This program really puts you into that environment where, I think, it is best to learn the language,” Armbrister said. “You spend eight hours each day learning Cherokee, speaking Cherokee and hearing Cherokee. You can’t ask for more than that as someone who’s wanting to learn a language.”
CLMAP not only provides students with the opportunity to learn the Cherokee language but also the opportunity to be exposed to the tribe’s culture, graduate Colleen Daugherty said.
“Many students come through and are grasping at everything they can hold on to as far the language and our people’s culture,” Daugherty said. “Within the first week of being in the program and being back in an environment where I was constantly hearing and speaking the language again, I knew that I had found a piece of me that had been missing. And now two years later, I want to continue to learn and become as fluent in Cherokee as I can be so that one day I can pass this language on to future generations.”
In November 2022, the tribe celebrated the opening of the new, historic $20 million Durbin Feeling Language Center, which houses all of the Cherokee Nation’s growing Cherokee Language programs under one roof in an effort to preserve and perpetuate the language.
The Durbin Feeling Language Center was funded through the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act, legislation introduced by Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner to provide millions of dollars for preserving and perpetuating the Cherokee language. When approved by the Council of the Cherokee Nation, it became the largest language investment in the tribe’s history.
For more information, including program qualifications, visit https://language.cherokee.org/language-programs/cherokee-language-master-apprentice-program/ or call the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program office at 918-207-4995.