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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 23, 2002 - Issue 57


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Kids Show off Skills at Cherokee Language Bowl

Cherokee Language Bowl Team WinnersTAHLEQUAH, OK - Sunshine, a field-trip and pizza - three things to guarantee success for students participating in the Cherokee Language Bowl at the Cherokee Nation tribal complex in Tahlequah.

Seventy-five students from seven schools have competed so far in the first annual event sponsored by the Cherokee Nation's Johnson O'Malley Program. Designed to challenge JOM students in grades K-12 to learn the Cherokee language, the competition involves a panel moderated by bilingual staff members and others who use flash-cards, one-on-one word play and a unique device that reads Cherokee words from a card and plays them back out loud. It is an interactive teaching method that rewards students for forming teams and studying Cherokee, and provides immense satisfaction for adults who have lived through many changes in Indian education.

"Some of these students are true speakers," said Phyllis Yargee, manager of the Cherokee Nation JOM copartner program. "Others have practiced enough to be able to recognize common words and phrases and to understand some Cherokee when spoken."

The Belfonte Panthers team won first place in the competition on day one for grades kindergarten through second; and the first place winning team on day two was the Gore U-li-yo-di-s, competing in the third to fifth grade category The Briggs A-wo-ha-li team finished second in that division.

"Several people have said they really appreciate what we are doing because it helps them teach their children the language," said Yargee. "It is a hard language to learn, especially with so few people left who are fluent."

Spectators seemed to enjoy the competition as much as students, teachers and Cherokee Nation staff, many commenting on their own ability to pick out words and understand. One in particular happened on to the event while visiting the tribal office complex and was especially pleased to witness the games.

"I was told not to speak Cherokee as a young student," said Rex Vann of Stick Ross Mountain Road in Tahlequah, "and that's all I spoke."

Vann's eyes twinkled, without a trace of bitterness, as he admired the children's enthusiasm and recalled his own efforts to retain his original language in an educational environment where the rule of the day was: English only.

"We always talked, even though they told us not to, because we couldn't understand each other (otherwise)," Vann said.

Forced to think, write and speak in English, Vann said he is grateful to "an Indian college teacher" for recognizing his abilities and understanding his struggle with the two languages during the 1980s at Southwestern Dallas Baptist University. After returning to Oklahoma, Vann also returned to the Cherokee language.

"I went into a church Sunday school class where there were only full-bloods because I wanted to learn," Vann said, "and I began to pick it up. I learned how to read and write it. I already had it in my head, I just lost making the sounds. The English was in the way. When you get both of them in there, you don't know anything."

Vann said he is happy to see the work being done now to keep the Cherokee language alive. He said he enjoyed watching the children and listening to the competition, which continues for grades nine to twelve on April 3.

Tahlequah, OK Map

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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