By Brooklyn Brown
On Thursday, March 30, and Friday, March 31, Western Carolina University hosted the 2023 Cherokee Language Summit in the Hinds University Center.
The language summit brings together Cherokee speakers, scholars, tribal leaders and organizations, community members, and other universities like the University of North Carolina at Asheville and UNC Chapel Hill to discuss Cherokee language preservation.
The event opened on Thursday with reports from WCU’s Cherokee language and Cherokee Studies programs. WCU is continuing working towards strengthening its relationship with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Cherokee language preservation through education resources at the university. The EBCI then shared information on their various programs to nurture learning of the Cherokee language.
During lunch, attendees broke bread together and held conversations in Cherokee language.
Afterwards, students from UNC Asheville and Cherokee language instructor, enrolled member of the EBCI and fluent speaker Gilliam Jackson, gave a presentation on their experience in the classroom, followed by a skit written and performed solely by the students. The skit, a Shakespearean-style comedy in Cherokee language with English translation, was a display of their second language learning.
Jackson then led a rich discussion on the creation of new words in Cherokee language. Jackson said Cherokee speakers and second language learners should focus on learning the Indigenous words of Cherokee language rather than spending energy creating new ones. Bo Taylor, enrolled member of the EBCI and AniKituhwa Warrior, agreed with Jackson, but also put forth the argument that any new words should be based on Cherokee codification, rather than a hybrid of Cherokee and English
David Jumper, a language specialist at New Kituwah Academy, the early childhood and K-6 language immersion school in Cherokee, said “Why waste time trying to figure out the translation for a word like ‘spaghetti?’ In all that time, you could’ve been learning a Cherokee word.”
Bri Alexander, a member of the Cherokee Nation and Shawnee Tribe, led a workshop on tools for learning Cherokee language. Alexander represents the broad scope of Cherokee language learning as a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, traveling to the ancient mountains of Western North Carolina to share her presentation.
After Alexander’s presentation, there was an open discussion on all of the presentations from the day. Attendees then enjoyed a tour of the WCU Fine Art Museum exhibit in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center, which features an immersive installation by Courtney M. Leonard, a Shinnecok Nation artist. The Bardo Arts Center architecture and design intentionally includes several aspects of Cherokee language and culture.
The Summit ended the evening with a trip to Judaculla Rock, an outcrop of soapstone with ancient petroglyphs relevant to the Cherokee legend of Judaculla, a giant and teacher who taught Cherokee people how to live in Western North Carolina.
On Friday, attendees went on a cultural historical site tour with Brett Riggs, WCU anthropology and sociology professor, visiting the Watauga, Cowee and Nikwasi mounds. Mounds are a sacred formation in Cherokee culture.
The Summit then visited the New Kituwah Academy and heard a panel discussion on the latest initiatives at the school.
“Garrett Scholberg and Seli (Sara Snyder, WCU Cherokee language program director) are leading the Cherokee Language Choir,” said Crystal Carpenter, principal of kindergarten through sixth grade for NKA. “The sixth graders are making wooden flutes and ribbon skirts and shirts for their graduation this year. Jessica Metz, one of our teachers for fifth and sixth grade, discussed new outdoor learning opportunities. Brittany Frady, a kindergarten teacher, talked about new technologies in the classroom.”
NKA is making strides in creating new and fun opportunities for language learning for Cherokee youth.
After their trip to NKA, attendees visited the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, which centers Cherokee history and culture. The Summit ended with dinner at Granny’s Kitchen, a local favorite.