Miss Cherokee 2019-20, Meekah Roy, and Junior Miss Cherokee Desiree Matthews, ride a float in the parade during the Cherokee National Holiday. (Aimee Lewis / Gaylord News) Support Journalism In the early spring of 2018, former Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Joe Byrd found a seat on the airport shuttle headed to Tulsa International Airport and heard over the radio a familiar, yet surprising sound: the Cherokee Youth Choir singing in his endangered native tongue.
“Who would ever imagine 20 years ago that we would be hearing our own language in a shuttle bus away from our rural areas?” asked Byrd, a current Tribal Council member who is fluent in the Cherokee language. “I couldn’t help but swell with pride and realize the distance we have come.” This story was reported by Gaylord News , a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma. This series entitled Exiled to Indian Country details the stories of how each of Oklahoma’s 39 tribes ended up in the state. The Cherokee Nation holds onto a crucial piece of tribal culture through its remaining 2,000 native speakers, a majority of whom are age 50 and older. The youngest fluent Cherokee speaker is 35, meaning the language faces potential extinction when older members die.
“If you hear people speaking Cherokee, even if you don’t understand it, it reminds you that we’re a people that have existed since time immemorial (…) and that we’re distinct people,” said Cherokee Nation […]