The Cherokee Nation has cut funding to the Cherokee language program at Northeastern State University. Starting Jan 1st, 2015, funding will be reduced from $100,000 a year to $25,000 and it appears the program will lose at least one full-time teacher. Several Cherokees have voiced concerns that this action puts the entire program in jeopardy.
The language program is unlike any in the country. The Northeastern State University website says; “Unique to Northeastern State University, the Cherokee Language Program offers the only indigenous language degree available in the continental United States. Since its inception in 2005, the Cherokee Program has brought together university, global and local interests as part of a plan to strengthen the Cherokee language for present and future generations.”
The Cherokee Nation and NSU issued several press releases that framed the changes as a progressive step forward. Chief Baker said in his press release, “Without a doubt, our language preservation efforts will be better fortified with this new and updated approach.”
Dr. Neil Morton said in a separate press release, “We are very much looking forward to the improvements to this partnership.”
An actual graduate of the program said in a Facebook posting; “As of 12/31/14, Cherokee Nation has decided to no longer support our Cherokee Language program” and “This makes me angry because how did this slip by without the ones representing us not speak up and bring this to our attention and concern?”
The plan calls for the Cherokee Nation to cut funds to Northeastern State University and then create a scholarship program where five language students will commit to teaching at the Nation’s immersion school as part of fulfilling their scholarship requirements. The reasoning of officials appears to be that once language students graduate, they have no desire or obligation to teach at the immersion school. They predict this will place those qualified
language instructors in the immersion school.
Critics of the program cuts seem to look beyond the one area of immersion schools and see the bigger picture of students who want a degree or want to engage in a partial study of Cherokee languages. Critics also suggest that scholarships for Cherokee students are abundant and there is no need to take money away from the actual language program at NSU.
Making instructors earn their scholarships by teaching at the immersion schools makes a lot of sense, but the bigger question some Cherokees ask is why cut funding to the program at all? $100,000 a year seems to be a small cost to help the Nation keep the Cherokee language alive. Many are asking if funding is really that tight. Others are questioning the real priories of the Nation’s administration.
One Facebook commenter, a former administrator at NSU, suggested that the problem may not lie solely with the Cherokee Nation, but also with the university.
As of now, no one really knows if this means the eventual end of NSU’s Cherokee language program. Many questions remain unanswered and as more information comes in, it will be posted.