into his third year of teaching, Brad Wagnon encourages his students
at Tahlequah High School to embrace a language and culture that
is foundational to the Cherokee Nation.
Students enrolled in the Cherokee language class at Tahlequah High
School are getting a taste of a unique culture.
is teaching Cherokee language, a class he believes is truly unique
for any school.
is one of the only high schools that has Cherokee during the school
day,” said Wagnon.
spend an entire trimester learning basic words and sentences, like
svhi (“it was”); walosi (“frog”); svnoi (“night”); tsunadeloquasdi
(“school”); or aya agiyosi (“I’m hungry.”)
a guess, Wagnon says students in his class probably learn about
100 basic words per trimester.
learn some sentences, so it’s really hard to know exactly how many
they learn,” said Wagnon.
the school based in the Cherokee capital of the world, it’s no surprise
that most students taking Cherokee language are members of the Cherokee
Nation – but not all, said Wagnon.
are from other tribes, and some aren’t part of any,” he said. “Some
are just interested in the language and culture.”
only do students learn to form basic sentences, but Wagnon’s classes
also get physically involved in the Cherokee culture through playing
stickball, Cherokee marbles, or shooting blowguns.
Cherokee students, I tell them their language is what makes the
Cherokee people unique from every other tribe,” said Wagnon. “For
non-Indians, the class is just something to get more exposure to
said the most challenging concept to students is the Cherokee syllabary,
a script of 85 characters invented by George Guess, commonly known
are used to seeing the English alphabet. Cherokee is a lot different
than learning Spanish,” said Wagnon. “With Spanish and English,
[those languages] come from the same root. When compared to English,
Cherokee is about as different as English is to the Chinese language.”
and approximately 50 students this trimester generally spend about
three days of the week practicing the Cherokee syllabary with flashcards.
credits students’ recent success at the Cherokee Language Bowl with
their drive to learn the historic script.
was the thing, I think, that helped us win first place at the competition,”
said Wagnon. “We’d never won first before. The competition had a
whole round devoted to the Cherokee syllabary.”
students Jessie Hooper, Billy Acuff, Julie Reese, Sky Blakley and
Joey Case participated and took home the top prize in the competition
built around a format similar to academic buzzer competitions.
said some questions forced students to translate from Cherokee to
English, while others required translation from English to Cherokee.
Indian students at the high school can also participate in Native
Reflections Club, while middle-school students have the Heritage
also sponsors a Cherokee Club and Heritage Club. Students from the
Cherokee Club recently competed in a stickball exhibition against
students from Jay and Vinita high schools.