Cherokee Culture, Language & Customs Not Only Being Preserved, but Advanced

Cherokee DaysGuest Commentary

Part of my sworn oath as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation is to preserve, promote and advance the language and culture of the Cherokee Nation. We’ve seen some wonderful examples of that recently. Our Cherokee Language Immersion School children successfully competed in a language competition at the University of Oklahoma; we showcased our culture to the world at the Smithsonian’s Cherokee Days; and we’ve done something no other tribe has done—introduced a television and online program called “Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People,” which highlights the stories, language, history and culture of the Cherokee people.

Last month our immersion school kids traveled to Norman to compete in the 13th annual Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair, a competition that showcased the skills of young Native speakers from more than a dozen Oklahoma tribes. They made all of us so proud, as they brought home awards and recognition from many categories.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker

This is a testament to the efforts and achievements of our Cherokee language programs. Our immersion school teaches children from pre-K to eighth grade all the subjects required by the state of Oklahoma, but entirely in the Cherokee language. The school has become a model for all other tribes in the preservation and advancement of native languages.

Other language programs are paying off as well. Our translation department has worked with technology giants like Microsoft, Google and Apple to bring the Cherokee language into the 21st century. Their most recent achievement was getting Cherokee on Android smart phones.

Our newest endeavor is one I am very excited about. We just launched a Cherokee language master-apprentice program that provides one-on-one instruction to adults for 40 hours per week, so they can go back into their communities and teach it to others. These programs, in addition to online classes, community classes and satellite programs in schools, ensure our Cherokee language is not just preserved, but advances.

We also just returned from Cherokee Days, hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. The three-day event was a joint effort between the Cherokee Nation and our brothers and sisters from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to showcase our shared culture and art forms, as well as each tribe’s unique traditions and cultures that developed following the Trail of Tears.

More than 25,000 people visited the museum over the weekend, taking in live art demonstrations, Cherokee storytelling, traditional dance and melodies of the Cherokee National Youth Choir and Eastern Band performers. Exporting our culture to our nation’s capital is a priceless opportunity. Visitors from countries around the world come to the three-day event for the specific purpose of learning about Cherokee culture and customs. These are people who’ve never been to the Cherokee Nation and may never visit, but now they know our accomplishments and legacy, and what it means to be Cherokee. Many visitors were so impressed they are already planning a trip to our Cherokee Nation to learn even more. This could be an economic boon for our tribe and the local economy.

This was our second straight year of participation in Cherokee Days, and it’s something we hope to continue with the Smithsonian for many more years to come.

Another new effort to share our culture and educate others has been through our new television and online program, “Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People.” Our third episode debuted in April to much praise. It’s an endeavor unlike anything the Cherokee Nation or any other tribe has ever undertaken. The show introduces us to Cherokee people who are excelling in their fields, making a difference in their communities or inspiring others to greatness. It also tells the true history of the Cherokee Nation and the figures who helped shape our tribe and make it what it is today. But perhaps most importantly, it tells the stories of what a true Cherokee looks like and what his or her daily life is like. It shows Cherokee people are a modern people who contribute to and value their communities, while preserving our priceless culture, language and heritage.

The program airs in northeast Oklahoma, northwest and western Arkansas, and southwest Missouri. Full episodes, individual segments and local showtimes can be found at The positive feedback over the last three months has far exceeded our expectations. If you have not watched this program yet, I urge you to do so.

All these efforts combined make me so proud to be Cherokee, and I know each of you shares that same feeling. I want to thank all of you for your contributions to our tribe, our culture and our many successes. God bless each and every one of you, and God bless the Cherokee Nation.


Bill John Baker is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

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