The 52,000-square-foot building in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, holds all of the Cherokee Nation’s language programs under one roof.
On Tuesday, Cherokee speakers from across the U.S. met with Cherokee Nation leaders for a day-long celebration and grand opening of the Durbin Feeling Language Center.
“The Cherokee language has always been the heart and soul of the Cherokee people. It contains intricate ways of thinking and a traditional knowledge that can’t be found anywhere else,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “That is why we are so focused on and committed to our Cherokee language preservation and perpetuation efforts. As I have said time and time again, all of our accomplishments in business, economic development, health care, and education could never make up for the loss we would feel if we allowed our precious language to perish. Our friend Durbin Feeling understood this, and he dedicated his life to perpetuating the Cherokee language. Today, our Cherokee Language Department honors his legacy. As Chief, I am so proud to hear the Cherokee language being spoken more and more not just here in the Cherokee Nation Reservation, but also when I visit Cherokee community groups across the country. This is a direct result of Durbin’s vision to share and teach the Cherokee language, and the tireless commitment of our Cherokee language team who continues that mission — because preserving and perpetuating the Cherokee language is preserving and perpetuating Cherokee identity. This state-of-the-art language center will help us continue to act swiftly and decisively so future generations grow up in a country where Native languages like the Cherokee language are revered as the unique, cultural treasures they truly are.”
The language center was named in honor of the late Durbin Feeling. Feeling is Cherokee Nation’s single-largest contributor to the Cherokee language since Sequoyah.
“Being truly immersed in the Cherokee language on a daily basis is a concept Durbin believed in and spent so much of his life working on. We know the immersive approach works in helping perpetuate our culture and traditions,” said Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. “We’ve seen that success in our Cherokee immersion school for children, and in our adult apprentice program. This language center is the beginning of the next chapter in our language efforts and I can’t wait to see what the future holds. This will be the center of learning and growth for a new generation of Cherokee speakers, and it will be a blessing to the Cherokee people.”
Officials say it is estimated that there are around 2,000 fluent Cherokee speakers in the Cherokee Nation.
The grand opening celebration on Tuesday included tours of the new facility, a hog fry and meal, and one of the largest assemblies of Cherokee fluent speakers in decades.
“This language campus is a signal to the world that they have woken a sleeping giant. It will be a beacon that stood upon a hill for the world to see for indigenous languages,” said Howard Paden, Executive Director of the Cherokee Language Department. “Here we will create a new generation of first-language Cherokee speakers. Our children will grow up beside first-language speakers. It will be a language campus that will change the world, our tribe, and the fight for our language. This is a battle for our heart, and we will win.”