Eastern Band Cherokees hope to fund its language as a foreign language class for public schools

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is urging the state to formally license Cherokee language teachers, enabling Cherokee courses taught in public schools off the reservation to count toward a student’s foreign language requirement.

Earlier this month, tribal and school officials met with representatives from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to finalize the steps in the process.

The move is part of tribe’s push to revitalize the language and preserve the Eastern Band’s cultural identity.
“Salvaging the language salvages our tribe. It continues to identify us as a unique people, and it continues to protect the sovereignty of who we are as a nation within a nation,” said Principal Chief Michell Hicks.

The tribe’s language efforts include everything from street signs in Cherokee to language emersion programs for infants — as well as required Cherokee language classes for grades K-12 school on the reservation.

Cherokee language and history classes are currently taught in the public schools in Graham County, where a small satellite portion of the reservation lies. The tribe foots the bill for the instructors’ salaries, but the classes do not fulfill the state’s language requirements.

By creating a teacher certification test that meets the standards of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, the tribe hopes to get Cherokee included on Department of Public Instruction’s list of languages for study.

Renissa Walker, director of the Kituwah Preservation and Education Program, which oversees the tribe’s language revitalization efforts, said the Eastern Band feels it’s important for the tribe to develop and administer the test themselves.

“We’re not a foreign language like the other languages taught in the high schools,” Walker said. “It’s ironic that the oldest language in North Carolina would be the last one to get recognized by the schools.”

Walker said the tribe doesn’t blame the state, however.

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