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TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — In the largest language investment in Cherokee Nation history, the Council of the Cherokee Nation approved legislation introduced by Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner to provide a $16 million investment in 2019 to construct the Durbin Feeling Language Center.

On Wednesday, ground was broken for the new 50,000-square-foot facility that will house all of the tribe’s language programs under one roof for the first time. 

The new language center is named in honor of the late Durbin Feeling, Cherokee Nation’s single-largest contributor to the Cherokee language since Sequoyah.

“Our language and our culture are our link to the past; they are what binds us together today, and the key to remaining a distinct people tomorrow,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “Our culture and by extension, our language, has been tested ever since European contact: war, disease, broken treaties, our forced removal, the suppression of our government, the influence of the so-called ‘civilized’ society around us has all put our culture and our language to the test. We are a strong people, but our lifeways and our language have all been eroded by all of these pressures over the centuries.”

Students from the Cherokee Immersion School get a glimpse of renderings for the future Durbin Feeling Language Center, which will house a new Immersion School along with all other of the tribe’s language programs.

The Durbin Feeling Language Center will house the Cherokee Immersion Charter School, the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program, and the Cherokee Nation translation team, along with other programs and services offered through the tribe’s language efforts.

Along with the new Durbin Feeling Language Center, the Cherokee Nation is also building five new efficiency style homes for Cherokee speakers, helping to connect them to younger Cherokee language learners at the nearby language center. The nearby speakers village is named in honor of the late Bonnie Kirk, a beloved Cherokee speaker and Cherokee Immersion School teacher who understood the importance of teaching younger generations to speak the Cherokee language and use it in their daily lives.

It is estimated that there are only about 2,000 fluent Cherokee speakers in the Cherokee Nation.

Construction is expected to be complete in 12 to 18 months.

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Levi Rickert
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Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected]