Chuck Hoskin Jr. (00:01):
Anytime we lose a Cherokee citizen, it's one too many. Here in the Cherokee Nation, in beautiful Northeastern Oklahoma, the COVID-19 pandemic not only took our Cherokee brothers and sisters, but we're also losing our fluent Cherokee speakers. In a tribe of more than 390,000, only 2,000 first language Cherokee speakers exist. When we lose our language, we lose our identity. And as you can imagine, COVID-19 has been the single largest threat to our language in this generation.
Chuck Hoskin Jr. (00:36):
One of my missions as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation is saving the Cherokee language. I can't tell you how devastating it's been to watch COVID-19 take more than 100 Cherokees from us, half of those being Cherokee speakers. We lost 67-year-old Dolly Raper, a Cherokee speaker and grandmother who retired from Kingwood School but continued to speak and share her language. Cherokee citizen, Faye Deason, a fluent speaker who worked at our Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center in the Diabetic Clinic, she never missed a Cherokee Speakers Bureau meeting where they identified new words and translate them into Cherokee. Sallie Byrd Sevenstar, age 72, of Nicut was a retired teacher of more than 30 years and taught the Cherokee language in her community. She was also the first bilingual Cherokee speaker to receive a bachelor's and a master's degree from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.
Chuck Hoskin Jr. (01:37):
Now, we didn't wait on the federal government to tell us what to do or how to respond to COVID-19, we were guided by science, facts, and compassion. Keeping our speakers, elders, and tribal community safe is why the Cherokee Nation took such swift and sweeping COVID-19 safety actions early on. It's not just protecting one person, it's protecting each other, and it's protecting our community. As Cherokees, we put others in front of ourselves.
Chuck Hoskin Jr. (02:09):
In May 2020, I signed an executive order requiring a mask be worn at all Cherokee Nation properties, including our travel government offices, health centers, casinos, museums, and businesses. We sent all Cherokee speakers and elders, 65 and older, or with underlying health conditions to work from home with pay. We organized the largest emergency food outreach event in Cherokee Nation history providing 7.2 million meals to not only our speakers, but our elders and other citizens to keep them home and safe.
Chuck Hoskin Jr. (02:43):
We implemented telehealth visits, we launched a Cherokee speaker hotline to help our speakers get the vital information when they needed it. We translated all COVID and vaccine materials so our speakers knew we cared enough to tell them everything they needed to know through this pandemic in our language. Most importantly, our Cherokee speakers were on the priority list when Cherokee Nation received the first doses of vaccines in mid-December.
Chuck Hoskin Jr. (03:12):
We have now safely vaccinated nearly 70% of our Cherokee speakers, and we're still going strong. In 2021, we celebrate the 200-year anniversary of our written language, the Cherokee syllabary. It's important we continue taking measures to grow our language. We're currently constructing a new Durbin Feeling Language Center to house all of our Cherokee language programs, including our pre-K through eighth grade Cherokee immersion school, our translation team and our Cherokee language master apprentice program.
Chuck Hoskin Jr. (03:45):
We are building our very first Cherokee speaker village, homes for our Cherokee speakers to converse with each other. We continue working each day, mindful of how to eliminate the spread of COVID-19 and protect our language and communities so we can carry on this important work and do it to honor the 50 speakers we've lost to COVID-19.