Learning, Honoring Native Languages

Article excerpt

Native American blood, Cherokee and Kickapoo, runs through my veins. I am a Cherokee Nation citizen, a member of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas and a U.S. citizen. That makes I me a citizen of three sovereign nations.

I am thankful to know where I come from, and language plays an important part.

Natives exist in two worlds, two very different worlds. To understand the Cherokee language, the elders say, is to be able to see the world in color. Cherokee is a descriptive language. Consider the word ka-ma-ma. This means butterfly or elephant, depending on how you use it. It describes an insect with big wings that flap or a large animal with ears that flap. But, again, that's Cherokee. Hundreds of tribal languages still live in the U.S. Most tribal languages are transferred from generation to generation orally and, unlike Cherokee, not written.

Our traditional language allows

us to know our history, our family, our ceremonies, our medicines and our stories. Many times, I have sat in a community gathering with fluent Cherokee speakers and wished I could understand every word. They speak low, nod their heads, speak louder and laugh with great enthusiasm. I love to hold that picture in my mind, but more importantly, I would love to understand every word.

I find it equally heartening and interesting to listen to our youth. Take the Cherokee Nation Immersion School for three-year-olds, which I've visited. Students must speak no English in the classroom, which is the opposite of how we were once treated. …


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