Cherokee Nation loses fluent speakers to COVID-19

Cherokee elder and fluent speaker Edna "Dolly" Raper, 67, of Kenwood, died from COVID-19 on July 4, 2020, according to the Cherokee Nation. (Cherokee Nation via Faceboook)

Cherokee Phoenix

PORTRAITS FROM THE PANDEMIC

Chad Hunter
Cherokee Phoenix

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A Cherokee elder and fluent speaker from Kenwood died from COVID-19 on July 4, Cherokee Nation officials said.

Edna “Dolly” Raper, 67, was retired from Kenwood School.

“On behalf of the Cherokee Nation, we send our thoughts and prayers to Dolly’s family during this difficult time, and grieve with them as we have lost an outstanding Cherokee citizen,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “My wife, January, and I want Dolly’s children and grandchildren to know how truly sorry we are. When we lose our language, we lose our identity, and COVID-19 has been the single most threat to our language in this generation, taking from us speakers such as Dolly.”

According to her obituary, Raper was born Feb. 26, 1953, in Claremore to Ike and Florence (Smith) Littledave.

She married Frank Raper, who preceded her in death, and together had four children: E-we, Liddie, John and Sarah.

She was a lifelong member of Euwasha Church in Kenwood, which brought a great amount of joy to her life and she enjoyed attending services and church events, the obituary states.

Raper is survived by her children; brothers, Hominy Littledave of Tahlequah, Solly Littledave and wife Joan of Pryor, and Porky Littledave and wife Ranee of Salina; sister, Dora Jennings of Kenwood; grandchildren Mariah and husband Brock, Madison, Elijah, Leah, Marisa, Mallori, Micah, Avery, Ella, Aniyah, Deagen, Ember and Isley; and great grandson John Parker.

Funeral services were slated for July 9 at Salina First Baptist Church. Burial was to follow at Euwasha Cemetery.

Another Cherokee speaker, Faye Deason, 63, died April 13 from COVID-19, according to the tribe. She was a 25-year CN employee who worked at the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center in Stilwell.

Deason was described as a “pillar of her family” and “all-around great lady” by neighbor and Dist. 7 Tribal Councilor Canaan Duncan.

“It’s always tough when we lose another Cherokee speaker,” Duncan said at the time.

Deason was the second Cherokee Nation employee tested in the tribe’s health system who died from COVID-19. On April 6, the Cherokee Nation announced its first related employee death was Karen Ketcher, 70, director of Self-Governance. She was also from Stilwell.

Hoskin said Raper’s life and death “are deeply meaningful to her family, community and our Nation.”

“We can give her life and passing even more meaning by recommitting ourselves to language preservation,” he said, “and keeping each other safe by wearing masks, social distancing and listening to health experts so that we do not lose any more of our most precious resources.”

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This story originally appeared in the Cherokee Phoenix. 

Chad Hunter has spent more than two decades in the newspaper industry as a reporter and editor in Arkansas, Oklahoma and his home state of Missouri. He began working for the Cherokee Phoenix in late 2018. Email: chad-hunter@cherokee.org or 918-453-5269. 

Read more Portraits from the Pandemic: https://indiancountrytoday.com/obituaries/

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