One piece of the language puzzle

(Photo courtesy of the Cherokee Nation)

Kolby KickingWoman

Cherokee Nation to release the first episode of an animated TV series in the Cherokee language

Kolby KickingWoman
Indian Country Today

For years, tribes searched for innovative and creative ways to keep Indigenous languages alive.

This week, the Cherokee Nation announced the completion of an animated series pilot called “Inage’i," which translates to “In The Woods.”

The episode was created through a collaboration between the tribe, the Oklahoma Film + Music Office, and FireThief Productions. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the series will be good for tribal citizens of all ages.

“Preserving and perpetuating the Cherokee language for future generations requires new avenues that allow us to both share and teach the language,” Hoskin Jr. said. “This partnership has produced an animated series pilot that I believe will grab the attention of children and adults alike. Whether they are introduced to the Cherokee language for the first time, or re-introduced to a language that they are already familiar with, we are excited about the groundbreaking possibilities this series will create for the Cherokee language in the years to come.”

Jeremy Charles, Cherokee, is the co-creator and director of the series. He said that even though the show has not found a permanent home, it has piqued the interest of multiple outlets.

Charles wants to capture the passion of young learners and hopes to add more Native content to the mainstream for Native youth, similar to “Molly of Denali,” which he said is the “gold standard.”

“We just need a lot more of that,” Charles said. “My goal from the beginning was yes, we’re going to teach language but we're going to teach it by creating content that kids can repeatedly watch and will be interested and engaged in and excited about rather than feel like they’re just being talked to.”

Traditional Cherokee stories inspired the creation of the main characters, who are four animal friends. They are, “Iga Daya’i the mischievous rabbit, Juksvsgi the gruff wolf, Anawegi the conscientious deer and Kvliwohi the wise bear,” according to the press release.

The tribe funded the project and is a part of the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act, which seeks to keep the Cherokee language alive and well. Beyond the language, animators drew inspiration from Cherokee clothing and traditional music that will be featured in the episode.

Howard Paden, Cherokee, is executive director of the Cherokee Nation’s language department. He said the tribe saw a decline in people who spoke the language because of television.

Now they are using the medium to their advantage.

“Cherokee communities saw a sweeping decline in Cherokee language usage among young children when television programming entered the homes of our rural communities,” Paden said. “This animation project, like others, will use the same technology to bring the language back into the home. Now young Cherokee children will be able to enjoy cartoons in Cherokee.”

Ultimately, it’s about creating an ecosystem of content for the next generation of Cherokee language speakers. Charles said the series is a small piece in the larger puzzle of sustaining the language.

“We need filmmakers to emerge. We need animators to be busy making content. We need TV programs to compete,” Charles said. “That to me, since that’s my background and that’s what I do, I’ve taken that on as my mission to join the new guard. The generations and the filmmakers who kind of feel a purpose in that and creating content. Creating an entire platform in a wide variety of interests for language learners and speakers. That to me is a super important part of retaining and revitalizing language.”

The trailer for the pilot will be released in the coming weeks as well as a free public showing. It will be released online shortly after for the world’s consumption.

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Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A'aniih is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports for the Washington Bureau. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - kkickingwoman@indiancountrytoday.com

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