Preserving the Cherokee language is preserving Cherokee identity, as the heritage and traditions of the tribe are rooted in our language.
Our language allows us to pass along traditional Cherokee knowledge and values to our children and grandchildren. That is why I am so proud that Cherokee Nation Businesses has pledged unprecedented financial support to the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program.
Through a signed memorandum of understanding, CNB is providing $180,000 to cover the costs of a language program called the 14th Generation Master Apprentice Program, a pilot program designed for students who originally learned to speak Cherokee at the tribe’s Cherokee Immersion Charter School.
We hope it encourages language usage as they progress through junior high and high school. CNB’s monetary commitment will further advance the preservation and usage of the Cherokee language, as graduates of the adult master apprentice program are placed in supervised teaching and mentoring roles.
The new endeavor can be a bridge that unites the mission of our Cherokee Immersion Charter School and the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program, which has graduated six students since it began three years ago and is expected to graduate six more students in 2018 and another eight students in 2019. Both programs have proven successful in their respective area, and now we can connect their goals and participants.
This multigenerational effort will help preserve and promote the use of the Cherokee language for generations to come and fill the gap between the immersion school and high school.
Our youth, who have been educated in the immersion school, are among the most valuable Cherokee language assets going forward. We have made significant investments in these children, and we must keep exposing them to language-learning opportunities after completing the sixth grade.
Now that we have graduates of the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program, we have developed an expert pipeline and grown the personnel to keep our youth engaged after immersion school graduation.
That means language lessons can be utilized at Sequoyah High School as well as within community settings.
Creating new Cherokee speakers, and in turn letting them pass along what they have learned, will keep our language flourishing for generations to come.
Supporting cultural education and growing the language curriculum will help Cherokee children succeed on their lifelong journey and allow them to reach their God-given potential in school, in life and as Cherokee speakers.
The 14th Generation Master Apprentice Program already has about a dozen Sequoyah High School students gathering for lessons after school.
Plans are in place for a summer program with participants gathering from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for 10 weeks. Those students could potentially get about 2,000 hours of language education just through summer participation.
CNB continues to support the tribe in its pursuit of preserving Cherokee culture and heritage. Without the aggressive commitment from our tribal government and our business endeavors, the future of the Cherokee language would be in jeopardy.
Bill John Baker is the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.