The Cherokee Nation’s Cherokee Language Master/Apprentice Program graduated five students Friday, Feb. 23, during a special commencement ceremony at the Chota Center. Front row (L-R): Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., Special Envoy for International Affairs and Language Preservation Joe Byrd, District 3 Councilor Lisa Robison Hall, CLMAP graduate Lillian Van Hauen, CLMAP graduate Hayley Miller, CLMAP graduate Jennie Pruitt, Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and Chief of Staff Corey Bunch. Back row (L-R): Cherokee Nation Language Executive Director Howard Paden, CLMAP Supervisor Kristen Thomas, Deputy Secretary of State Canaan Duncan, CLMAP graduate Matthew Church, CLMAP graduate Tyler Teague, and District 2 Councilor Candessa Tehee.


TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation’s Cherokee Language Master/Apprentice Program graduated five students Friday, Feb. 23, during a special commencement ceremony at the Chota Center.

Matthew Church (ᎹᏚ ᏗᎦᎳᏫᏍᏗ), of Muskogee; Hayley Miller (ᎢᏥᏫ), of Tahlequah; Jennie Pruitt (ᏥᏂ), of Westville; Tyler Teague (ᏓᎳᎳ), of Tahlequah; and Lillian Van Hauen (ᎵᏗ), of Oktaha, each received a plaque of completion during the ceremony.

“We are so proud of our CLMAP graduates who have invested their time and efforts to revitalizing a piece of our shared Cherokee heritage,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “An important part of preserving our language is by creating a new generation of Cherokee speakers who can continue to perpetuate the language and teach others how to speak it. CLMAP and our immersion schools are prime examples of how we’re showing our commitment to keeping our language alive for future generations.”

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.

“This graduation ceremony is about celebrating our beautiful language and this cohort of graduates, who will now go out into the world and teach others,” Deputy Chief Bryan Warner said. “Our language is what will lead us into the future and is part of what ties us Cherokees together every day. We must celebrate these moments of success and progress as we continue our efforts in revitalizing our language.”  

Master speakers 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 to learn and practice speaking the language. The students also visited community organizations and schools to showcase and teach the language.

“I’m very appreciative of Chief Hoskin, Deputy Warner and our tribe’s leadership as a whole for having invested all of the resources possible to ensure we perpetuate the Cherokee language,” Cherokee Nation Language Department Executive Director Howard Paden said. “These graduates are vitally important to the revitalization of the language and will be afforded the opportunity to teach future generations as well.”

The program has now graduated 49 conversational, second-language Cherokee speakers since its first graduating class in 2016.

“I’ve learned that it’s important to learn the language because it allows you to see the world differently and think differently,” CLMAP graduate Matthew Church said. “Of course, it’s also an important piece of our tribe’s cultural identity. If we lost our language, we would lose a piece of what it means to be Cherokee. But because of CLMAP, I’m now a second-language learner and can teach others at the children’s Cherokee immersion school.”

Graduate Hayley Miller said her children were her motivation to enroll in CLMAP and become a language teacher.

“My language journey started a long time ago when I enrolled my kids in preschool at the immersion school. I realized that if you don’t have family to help these kids study and learn the language, then it doesn’t really work,” Miller said. “So I went to NSU and got my degree in Cherokee education. The goal was for me to learn the language as my kids were getting older. I eventually was hired on at Tahlequah High School to teach the language for seven years, and when I had this opportunity to work more on my language skills in CLMAP, it was just perfect. Now I’m teaching at the immersion school, and my children want to follow my footsteps and become a language teacher like me one day.”

In November 2022, the tribe celebrated the opening of the new, historic $20 million Durbin Feeling Language Center, which houses all the Cherokee Nation’s growing Cherokee Language programs under one roof 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.

In January 2024, the Cherokee Nation passed legislation that permanently reauthorized the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act.

For more information, including program qualifications, visit or call the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program office at 918-207-4995.