Cherokee Nation creates new language department to focus on preserving language, generating more proficient speakers

AHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation is establishing a new language department that will directly oversee the tribe’s Cherokee Immersion School, a team of translators and the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program. The new department will focus on language preservation and perpetuation, and generating more proficient second-language Cherokee speakers.

Howard Paden, a Sequoyah County native and the tribe’s current Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program manager, has been named as the executive director of the tribe’s new language department. Wyman Kirk has also been named administrator of the Cherokee Immersion School, and Jeromie Hammer has been named as principal.

All three are Cherokee Nation citizens and each have been learning the Cherokee language for at least two decades.

“In order to save and perpetuate our Cherokee language, it is essential for our Cherokee language programs to be together in one department and in one location so that we can share resources, share the Cherokee language, and work together on the same objective, which is making sure our language not online survives, but thrives,” Chief Hoskin said. “These leaders have been chosen because they not only speak Cherokee, but because they have a wealth of Cherokee culture and historical knowledge that will serve our speakers and language learners well. These programs will soon all be housed in the new Durbin Feeling Language Center.”

Paden began working for the Cherokee Nation in 2003 with the tribe’s Indian Child Welfare department, where he worked tirelessly for Cherokee children and family reunification. While working with ICW, Paden spearheaded new language initiatives including employee language classes, family cultural and language packets, and a Cherokee cultural camp for foster families across the country. In 2014, Paden was assigned to develop and design what became the Cherokee Nation’s Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program, an adult Cherokee language immersion program that pairs novice learners with master-level, fluent Cherokee speakers. He designed the master-apprentice program based on his experiences in a similar Spanish program he and his wife encountered while serving as missionaries in Bolivia and attending the Universidad de Idiomas, or the University of Languages.

“Unfortunately, we’re losing upwards of a hundred fluent Cherokee speakers a year,” Paden said. “We recently lost seven alone in one month, three of them from COVID-19. We’re at a crossroads, so we must make language our priority and get our citizens behind this critical effort to continue saving our language. I believe the Cherokee Nation and Chief Hoskin are putting all of the pieces into place to help us teach new generations of Cherokee speakers how to use and pass along this beautiful tradition.”

As administrator of the Cherokee Immersion School, Kirk will lead the Immersion School being responsible for the development, implementation, supervision and evaluation of educational and student services.

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