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Creating Partnerships Between the Indigenous Language Community and the University: The Experience of the Cherokee Education Degree Program

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The Cherokee Education Degree Program, located at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, is a unique example of cooperation between a public university and a tribe. This program trains future teachers of the Cherokee language and is currently the only institution in the continental United States that offers a Bachelor's degree in a Native American language. In the relatively new field of language revitalization there is a growing body of literature on the role of teacher training, but this new approach, which I will refer to as the university degree model, has not been previously described. Grenoble and Whaley describe seven language revitalization models: 1) total immersion, 2) partial immersion/bilingual programs, 3) the language as a second language, 4) community-based programs, 5) Master-Apprentice and, 6) language reclamation (2006, 50–69). The university degree model described in this paper is closest to the third type, but represents a significant expansion in size and scope. The purpose of this paper is to describe the contributions that such a program brings to a language revitalization effort.

To better understand the program at Northeastern State University (hereafter referred to as NSU) it is useful to briefly review the three types of Native American language instruction found in American higher education. The most common setting is in tribal colleges: most of the nation's thirty-six tribal colleges and universities have at least a few classes in a Native language. The tribal college movement began in the 1960's at the same time the Civil Rights movement was underway, and from the beginning language maintenance was part of the mission of these schools (Guardia and Evans 2008). The most extensive Native language curriculum is found at Diné College. This institution, the first tribal college ever established, offers a variety of Navajo language classes as well as many courses taught in Navajo. Students at Diné College can receive an Associate's degree in the Navajo language (Diné College Catalog 2008–2009). Most of the other thirty-five tribal colleges in the U.S. offer classes in the tribe's language, and a few offer an Associate's degree in the language. In addition to tribal colleges, Native languages are found in public and private colleges and universities in various departments whose main focus is not on these languages. Reyhner et al. list some settings as departments of humanities, education, languages, linguistics, foreign languages, anthropology, and Native American studies programs (2000, 149). A few of these language classes are found in institutions with programs whose central focus is on Native languages or endangered languages in general, such as the new Master's in Applied Linguistics at the University of Oklahoma.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2010

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