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The Cherokee language long view

Roy Boney joins the newscast to talk about how the Cherokee are working to revitalize their language. Plus national correspondent Mary Annette Pember gives us more details about her story on the restoration of a tribal bison range in Montana.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the printing of Sequoyah's syllabary. Unlike the alphabet, a syllabary is a formal structure for the Cherokee language. It uses both English, alphabet and Cherokee symbols to construct words. In 1821, after 12 years of working on the written form of the Cherokee language Sequoyah and his daughter Ahyoka began showing his new writing system to the Cherokee people. In less than a decade, the Cherokee nation had a higher literacy rate than their white neighbors in Georgia. Ray Boney who is the Cherokee nation language program manager joins us today.

Recently the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes in Montana received some good news. Our national correspondent Mary Annette Pember wrote about it in her story 'The bison have returned'. She joins the newscast today to tell us more about what this means to the people.

A slice of our Indigenous world

Heather Dawn Thompson, Lakota, will become the director of the Office of Tribal Relations at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Plus, Wahleah Johns, Diné, has been selected to head the U.S. Office of Indian Energy Programs and Policy. And, we'll tell you which tribe isn't happy about a new North Carolina tribal gaming compact. Also, the American Library Association is announcing that the picture book ‘We Are Water Protectors’ is a winner of the Caldecott Medal. And today, January 26th is “Australia Day,” however Indigenous people have a different name for it. You can find more details on all of this at the top of today's newscast.

Some quotes from today's show

Roy Boney:

"Well day-to-day you wouldn't see it very much unless you're like in Tahlequah where some of the street signs are in Cherokee and some of the businesses have Cherokee writing on the windows. Unless you went to North Carolina in Cherokee, North Carolina, there's quite a bit of Cherokee there, but outside of that, you don't see too much of it out in public and day-to-day you see it more on your cell phones, people are texting in it and they're using social media in it. And that kind of thing."

"Yeah definitely and for Cherokees, we like to look at this with the long view that when, in the 1820s, when the Cherokees got their printing press, we adapted the syllabary to that. And ever since every time there's been a major form of a running technology like typewriters were processing, fonts or whatever it is throughout the years, we adapt to it. So we just keep using that new technology and moving on with our language."

"Well now like at Cherokee nation, we've had a Cherokee immersion school since about 2001-02 I believe. And we've had an entire class now graduate from that. They're out of high school and in college now. And many of these students they're pursuing careers in language, not all of them are, but some of them are doing that and they retain their language and fluency in summer, or staying connected to their families and beyond the merchants core graduates. And we also have a master language apprentice program for adult learners. And so they are paired with master Cherokee speakers and they're using the language quite a lot."

Mary Annette Pember:

"It's on the Flathead reservation, which is where the Confederated, Salish and Kootenai tribes are headquartered. And it's a fairly close to Glacier national park. So we're kind of talking North, Northwest Montana. It's such a crazy story. Actually Teddy Roosevelt was president at the time and I think this was sort of a period where there was a kind of nostalgia for the vanishing American."

"And I think that was sort of a meme that was going on in the country. And of course by that time, so many of the bison had been killed off, just slaughtered in mass for their hides. And there's, as you probably know, they're photos of like these giant piles of Buffalo skulls that they would burn and grind up for fertilizer. So they basically had hunted the creatures almost to extinction. So he decided that there should be some sort of a place and a method to conserve the bison and to prevent their extinction."

"They had been nationally recognized for their conservation efforts and wildlife management efforts. I think they're the first tribally designated wilderness area they manage there. It's called Mission mountains tribal wilderness and they care for a number of unique animal populations, trumpeter swans, bighorn sheep, grizzly bear, and probably also some fish and other species."

Read more:
The bison have returned

Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix.

Mary Annette Pember, citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is national correspondent for Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @mapember. Based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Pember loves film, books and jingle dress dancing.

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