Cherokee immersion program sweeps fair 4-13-07

TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma - Keeping the Cherokee language alive, students of the Cherokee Nation Immersion Program recently competed in the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman. All four groups of the Tsalagi Junadeloquasdi Language Immersion Center received awards in the competition.

"The Cherokee language is important in maintaining our cultural heritage and identity," said Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. "Through our language immersion program we are working diligently to teach future generations our native tongue. The Cherokee language enhances the quality of life of our people and preserves the culture and traditions of our past. The Cherokee Nation is very proud of these young Cherokees and their accomplishments at the language fair."

Students of Native American languages from preschool to high school were invited to enter the competition. Participants demonstrated their language skills through presentations of skits, stories, poetry, drama, song and dance by incorporating Native American language into their performance. Each year more than 350 students compete in the event and as many as 18 Native American languages are represented at the competition.

"The language competition is fun for all of the kids who participate," said Mary Linn, museum curator. "They really get confident when they hear the other kids cheering for them. It's a great atmosphere of sharing and support."

"I had fun at the language fair," said Wazhazha Palmer, a first grader in the immersion program. "My class did a puppet show and my character was a lion. We won first place."

In the PreK-2nd Individual competitions, Cree Drowningbear and Chelbi Turtle each placed first.

The Cherokee Nation Pre-School placed second in the Group Music and Dance Division. Participants included: Rebecca Ballou, Robert Carroll, Landen Dry, Jordan Gann, David Hadley Jr., Lyndee Hammer, Agalisigi Mackey, Makaya Pourier, Macy Ridge, Maureena Troutman, Eric Walters, Trevor Walters, Logan Webber and Rhett Welch.

In the Group Spoken Language Division the Cherokee Nation first grade placed first. Members included: Cambria Bird, Emilee Chavez, Cheyenne Drowningbear, Cree Drowningbear, Lauren Grayson, Preslee Keener, Alayna Harkreader, Lauren Hummingbird, Serena Jones, Calesa Murdock, Wazhazha Palmer, Maggie Sourjohn and Sean Sikora. Second place in this division went to the

Photo Cutline: Members of the Cherokee Nation Immersion Program recently participated in the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair in Norman. Pictured are (l-r): Solomon Winn, Jacy Elizondo, Alec Stopp, Garrett Neugin, Si'nihele Ellenwood, Darsi Wollard and Hondo Kirk.


Cherokee Nation Pre-Kindergarten class: Jacy Elizondo, Sinihele Ellenwood, Alexis Kelly, Hondo Kirk, Garrett Neugin, Alec Zander Stopp, Solomon Winn and Darsi Woolard. In the same division, third place went to the Cherokee Nation Kindergarten: Rachel Ballou, Daylon Davis Dunn, Hononegah Gammon, Alexander Holcomb, Dalyn Patterson, Lilly Riggs and Ethan Winn.

"We are very proud of the accomplishments made by our students and staff," said Rebecca Drywater, Language Project Supervisor. "The mission of the Immersion Program is the revitalization of the Cherokee language. Through the strong efforts of our Cherokee teachers and the support of the parents, the success of each of our participants in the language fair is evidence of the success of this program."

"The fundamental idea behind our immersion program is to ensure the continued existence and use of our Cherokee language. Currently, the Cherokee Nation offers Cherokee-only classes. The children and their teachers speak only Cherokee all day long. Studies have shown that young children pick up languages faster than adults, so even children who have had little or no exposure to Cherokee in their homes are soon speaking Cherokee words, phrases and sentences," said Smith. "Other studies have shown that bilingual students do better in school than students who speak just one language, so we are truly helping our children by helping them learn Cherokee at an early age."

Foreseeing the need to preserve its native language, the Cherokee Nation implemented programs and literature that emphasizes the continued importance of the Cherokee language to its people and culture for generations to come. It is estimated that at the time of first contact between Europeans and Indians that more than 300 languages were spoken in the United States. Today, only 175 remain. According to the Indigenous Language Institute, by 2050 only 20 of these languages will be spoken on a regular basis, unless efforts to protect these native tongues are enforced.

A sign inside a Cherokee Nation immersion classroom details the dedication that the tribe is placing on the continued use and understanding of its language and culture. The sign reads: "Culture is the story of your family," an idea that symbolizes the underlying foundation of the educational programs created by the Cherokee Nation to help preserve the heritage of the Cherokee people.