language instructor Rufus King teaches a community language
class at the Lost City Community Center from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
on Mondays. King is a Cherokee Nation citizen and first-language
speaker who became certified to teach in 2001. Brittney Bennett
- Cherokee Phoenix
book "We Are Learning Cherokee Level 1" was developed by the
Cherokee Nation's Cherokee Language Program and is distributed
to each student who partakes in community language classes.
Text highlighted in blue means a first-language speaker has
spoken the language and it has been recorded. Students can download
audio files at www.cherokee.org. Brittney Bennett - Cherokee
language instructor and Cherokee Nation citizen Helena McCoy
showcases the syllabary and phonetics for the word "gravy"
in Cherokee to her students on Oct. 17 at the Brushy Community
Center in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. McCoy is a first-language speaker
and also taught at the Cherokee Immersion Charter School for
six years. Brittney Bennett - Cherokee Phoenix
students attend Helena McCoy's Cherokee language class on
Oct. 17 at the Brushy Community Center in Sallisaw, Oklahoma.
The class meets from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.
Brittney Bennett - Cherokee Phoenix
LOST CITY, Okla. Cherokee language classes recently started
online and in communities across the Cherokee Nation's jurisdiction,
as teachers encourage students to read, write and speak the language
to save it.
Part of the CN's Cherokee Language Program, the free classes
are held each spring and fall for 10 weeks.
"It's preserving our language," instructor Rufus King said.
"We are all losing it, some of them say. There's not that many speakers
anymore here in Cherokee Nation. It's an everyday business, and
I've said this before, but we need to get into this business a little
deeper than what we are now if we're really going to stay up with
King, a CN citizen and first-language speaker, teaches at the
Lost City Community Center. His classes meet from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
on Mondays. He became certified to teach Cherokee in 2001 and stresses
practicing the Cherokee syllabary daily and the idea that learning
"Even after 20 lessons, you have to come back the next term,"
he said. "You can't quit. Those (symbols) are the most important
things in the Cherokee language. You've got to know them if you're
going to write or read."
Only those who attend community classes like King's receive
a copy of the book "We Are Learning Cherokee Level 1," which was
introduced this past spring.
The "See, Say, Write" book, which was previously used in classes
for more than 20 years to teach beginners, was designed to teach
fluent Cherokee speakers, Cherokee Language Program Director Roy
"The previous book was mainly a lot of simple word lists for
those that could already speak Cherokee and wanted to learn how
to write it," he said. "This new book is more designed for people
that are learning the language, so we have things like grammar rules
and how to make something possessive or plural. This way people
actually create their own thoughts about what they would want to
say to somebody, rather than just rote memorization."
Boney said the new book took more than a year to develop and
accompanies free supplemental material found online. "If you look
in the text, you'll see things that are highlighted in blue. Those
items have been recorded, so on the www.cherokee.org
website we have the link where students can download all of the
audio files that go along with the book so they can listen to it
on their phone, their computer, if they want to make CDs."
While the book provides structure, Boney said language instructors
could teach as they see fit. CN citizen Helena McCoy, instructor
at the Brushy Community Center near Sallisaw, holds class from 2
p.m. to 4 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.
Though she uses the new book, she also asks students what they
are interested in learning. "At the beginning, I try to teach what
they want to learn, that way they'll be more interested in coming
back. I don't try to push anything on them. I just ask them, 'What
do you want to learn?'"
HTo watch a video, click
She said students asked about Cherokee names for family members
and how to order foods at a restaurant.
"We write everything in syllabary and phonetics to let them
know what it sounds like," McCoy said. "It's important to me for
someone that is a fluent speaker to teach them the sounds because
I hear so many people saying, and I'm not saying they're wrong,
but I hear so many people saying words different from what I've
heard. Cherokee is my first language, that's why it's so important
for me they hear it from me. I don't tell them it's wrong, but I
tell them, 'This is how we say it from my area.'"
This is the second year McCoy has taught language classes. She
previously taught at Marble City Public Schools for 20 years and
the Cherokee Immersion Charter School for six years.
"I always try to make them say the words because you have to
see it and say it, and if you want to write it in the syllabary,
you have to hear yourself saying those words," she said.
CN citizen Melvin McCoy, Helena's brother-in-law, said he hopes
attending classes will help him with the language and syllabary.
"My parents were fluent, I mean really fluent, but they just
didn't teach us," Melvin said. "They taught us English first, but
we should have learned Cherokee first because it's a whole lot easier
to learn when you're young. I can speak a little bit, but not fluently
so I come here to try and learn a little bit more and we do have
a really good teacher. I think if you can learn the syllabary, you
can probably learn to talk Cherokee pretty good."
CN citizen Gary Bolin was also raised in a fluent-speaking environment
but moved from the area as a child and is now trying to reconnect
with the language.
"I'm not around speakers every day," he said. "About the only
time I get to hear any (Cherokee) at all is when we're in class,
so that helps me, too."
Bolin said anyone interested in learning should consider the
community classes. "You kind of get your foothold at class, but
you've got to take it home with you to really learn it. It's really
something that everybody should know. It's a part of who you are
and where you came from, and it's something that nobody should want
For more information, call 918-453-5151.
Locations for Fall Classes
- Tulsa: Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma
- Jay: Jay Community Center
- Hulbert: Lost City Community Center
- Porum: Oak Grove Baptist Church
- Webbers Falls: Webbers Falls Museum
- Tahlequah: Elm Tree Baptist Church
- Salina: New Jordan Baptist Church
- Sallisaw: Brushy Community Center
- Locust Grove: Ballou Baptist Church
- Salina: Salina Early Learning Academy
- Muldrow: Muldrow Cherokee Community Organization
- Kenwood: Kenwood Community Center
- Tahlequah: Northeastern State University
- South Coffeyville: Tom Buffington Heights
- Marble City: House of Praise Church