Our Unified Language Curriculum

The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is one of three federally recognized tribes and is located in Tahlequah. The percentage of Cherokee first language speakers is 0.5% of the total Cherokee population; this percentage is made of mostly elderly people, some who have succumbed to the COVID-19 virus.

With “Our Unified Language Curriculum” NLCC Project, Cherokee Nation aims to develop and establish a coordinated, standardized Cherokee language curriculum available for each level of educational language learning (early childhood, elementary, high school, and college certification) and establish a Cherokee Language Board to oversee the collaborative effort of the Cherokee Nation’s language programs resulting in a unified vision, implementation, and mission of all.

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Up until the early Nineteenth Century, the Cherokee people lived in the southeastern woodlands of North America, in present-day North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. Under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the United States forcibly removed the Cherokee from their homeland and relocated them to the “Indian Territory,” the current state of Oklahoma. The forced migration was known as the Trail of Tears, where as many as 6,000 individuals perished. Today, the Cherokee Nation counts more than 300,000 citizens, and their capital is located in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

The Cherokee language itself is called ᏣᎳᎩ (tsalagi) and our Cherokee people today are most commonly called ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ (anitsalagi) however long ago the Cherokee people used to go by the name of ᎠᏂᎩᏚᏩᎩ (anigiduwagi). Today the Cherokee Nation primarily uses the Cherokee language for government business. The orthography was developed by ᏍᏎᏉᏯ (Sequoyah) from 1809-1823 and was ratified by Cherokee Nation’s council in 1825. Sequoyah was not an English speaker and he could not read or write any written language; his accomplishment was astonishing. He is still remembered with great honor by all the Cherokee people.

ᏣᎳᎩ (Cherokee language) is Iroquoian and under the greater Macro-Siouan Language family, and is the sole member of the Southern Iroquoian language family. ᏣᎳᎩ is polysynthetic, tonal, and concrete. ᏣᎳᎩ is the foundation of its people’s cultural identity; the Cherokee people harbor a direct connection to the language through family and community. For example, Often Cherokees will identify themselves by their own relationship to the closest Cherokee speaker in their family. The traditional beliefs about our language remind us that it is more than communication, it is also a way to create and renew reality and the world in which Cherokee live.

The total number of Cherokee citizens from the three Federally recognized Cherokee tribes (The Cherokee Nation, The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) is approximately 400,000. The number of fluent, first language Cherokee speakers is less than 0.5% of the tribal population, which mostly includes the elderly Cherokee generation. Also, we lost quite a few first language speakers due to COVID-19, so are numbers are diminishing.

With Cherokee Nation’s “ᎢᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗᏱ ᏗᏕᏲᎲᏍᏙᏗ: Our Unified Language Curriculum” NLCC Project, Cherokee Nation aims to develop and establish a coordinated, standardized Cherokee language curriculum available for each level of educational language learning (early childhood, elementary, high school, and college certification) and establish a Cherokee Language Board to oversee the collaborative effort of the Cherokee Nation’s language programs resulting in a unified vision, implementation, and mission of all.

The project will achieve the goal of standardizing the Cherokee language curriculum by achieving the following objectives.

  1. Development of a comprehensive Cherokee language curriculum for all Cherokee language programs: Early Childhood, Elementary, High School, and College certification, using American Council of Teaching Foreign Languages (ACTFL) guidelines to set language proficiency goals for all age levels by the end of Year 5.
  2. At the completion of the project, a fully functional Cherokee Language Board with oversight capacity will be seated to help direct and evaluate Cherokee Nation’s language revitalization initiatives.
  3. Development and formalization of a Cherokee Nation Language Teacher Certification.

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the fifth year of the cooperative agreement. Cherokee Nation canceled classes and moved to a virtual platform. Cherokee Nation lost quite a few elders and speakers to the virus. They continue to work through the pandemic virtually as the learn what works best for their community to remain engaged with the NLCC project.

Below you will find the links to Cherokee Nation’s Language Program’s media, website, and social media pages.

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