Howard Paden cited statistics that sounded alarming. His tribe retaliates with a different type of sound: music.
Paden, executive director of the Cherokee Nation Language Department, provided figures on the number of Cherokee language speakers lost in recent years – 119 in 2019, 134 in 2020, 150 in 2021. He said 70 speakers were lost to cause of COVID-19.
Fewer than 2,000 fluent Cherokee language speakers remain. Paden said two languages in the world are “lost” every week. He indicated that we are at a crucial moment (“we have to turn every page”) with regard to the revitalization of the Cherokee language.
“The Cherokee Nation is pushing as hard as it can with 26 different language programs and projects going on right now,” he said.
A new initiative: just press play.
Paden was among the speakers at a Wednesday press conference at FireThief Productions, where it was announced that Horton Records is teaming up with Cherokee filmmaker and creator Jeremy Charles for a compilation album of original songs performed in the Cherokee language.
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The album features 12 Cherokee artists performing material from a myriad of genres, including folk/Americana, country, pop, heavy metal, hip hop, and even reggae. The album is expected to be released in time for Cherokee National Day 2022 over Labor Day weekend.
Brian Horton of Horton Records opened his part of the press conference with these words: “How cool is this project? He said it was a no-brainer for Horton Records to be involved.
Clarence Boyd, representing the Zarrow Families Foundation Commemoration Fund, also spoke enthusiastically about the album, saying that as a retired musician and father of recorded Native American children, the project “really spoke to me.” Funding for the album was provided by the Zarrow Families Foundation Commemoration Fund.
Charles, who chaired the press conference, said he would probably never be fluent in the Cherokee language. “But I recognize that as a citizen I have a duty to help, however I can.”
One strategy for keeping a language alive is to introduce it to young people, which FireThief Productions has done through an animated series created in partnership with the Cherokee Nation and the Oklahoma Film + Music Office.
Ideally, the next album will be a gateway to the Cherokee language for young music consumers and listeners of all ages.
Charles said the Cherokee culture has a rich gospel tradition. It’s something to be proud of, along with the work done by the Cherokee Youth Choir.
“But we don’t have anything that you would hear on the radio, or anything that the kids would pick up, and that was kind of the point, that’s why we’re here,” he said during the press conference.
Paden referred to the revitalization of an indigenous Maori language in New Zealand and said a Maori language commissioner told him ‘you’re going to have to go to where a kid is playing in your language’ . Translation: Transmitting the language to young people through music.
“Wherever our children are, our language should also be there,” Paden said. “If our children are in front of the television, our language must also be there. If our children are on the radio, their language must also be there. (And that includes) schools and that sort of thing. We will build a linguistic nest around our children, and we will save our language in this way.
Contributing artist Lillian Charles said, “Music has a lot of power, so I think it will definitely help this cause.”
Charles, also known as IIA, was among three artists who performed at the press conference and gave attendees a sample of what they will hear on the album. IIA is a 14-year-old eighth grade student at Carver Middle School and the daughter of Jeremy Charles, the album’s producer. Like her fellow performers Zebediah Nofire and Kalyn Fay, she was applauded for being successful in her time on stage.
Other artists attended the press conference. Artists who signed up for the album include Aaron Hale, Agalisiga Mackey, Austin Markham, Colby Luper, Desi & Cody, Ken Pomeroy Medicine Horse, Monica Taylor, and Travis Fite. Those interviewed on site were unanimous in saying that it was an honor to participate in the project.
“It’s something that’s never been done before,” Markham said. “I am 22 years old. To be part of this historic project is surreal.
Although the album features original artwork, Markham — a Vinita artist making his way to Nashville — released his song in English on an EP last year. With the help of translators, he converted the song into Cherokee for inclusion on the new album.
“Speaking another language is very challenging and challenging,” Markham said. “Singing it is totally on another level. So singing that language in the studio was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as an artist and singer. It was so difficult. But I’m so happy with the song. The song is called “Gon’ Be Alright”. It’s an amazing song about unity and just an uplifting song. It easily resonates with anyone in this room, even if they’re not Cherokee, and it was cool to bring such a universal song to the language for speakers and for this project.
Jeremy Charles said some of the artists on the album knew the Cherokee language and others relied on speakers for help.
“Each of these people has dedicated so much of their life to defending the language and they’ve been so generous in mentoring our artists, which hasn’t been easy,” he said. “It’s not easy to translate. It’s not easy to learn when you’re not familiar with the language.
Cherokee language speakers were introduced (and applauded) at the press conference. Fay thanked them for their patience before performing her song.
Fay said she was honored to be part of the project because she has a Cherokee-speaking grandmother and grandmother. She used the word “great” to describe her experiences with translators.
“Fortunately, I already have some knowledge of the Cherokee language and I speak the language a little,” she said. “I’m absolutely not fluent, so the process is a bit better because I’ve already figured out Cherokee phonetics. It was a bit smoother than it could have been. I had a lot of help. »
Maybe the album has an impact? IIA said she was passionate about learning the Cherokee language.
“Our belief is very simple,” Paden said. “The Cherokee language is so powerful that it becomes very addictive. If we can pass this on to (people) and get into their hearts at a very young age, then they will always be connected to who we are as a people.
The album will be titled “ᎠᏅᏛᏁᎵᏍᎩ” (“Anvdvnelisgi”, pronounced Ah Nuh Duh Nay Lees Gi) and will translate to “Performers” in English.
“A lot of people are going to hear the Cherokee language in a new context for the first time,” said Jeremy Charles. “I hope ‘ᎠᏅᏛᏁᎵᏍᎩ’ will spark inspiration for Cherokee citizens and artists. Being Cherokee is special, and it’s cool. And I hope projects like this will contribute to the vast efforts of the Cherokee Nation to preserve the language in the future.