WCU Cherokee language program receives grant to strengthen coursework

Western Carolina University’s Cherokee language program received a $199,540 grant to continue its efforts in developing and revising Cherokee language coursework.

The grant is from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission includes helping preserve the Cherokee culture. The goal of offering online courses and high school courses for college credit is to expand the Cherokee language program by increasing enrollment options, said Hartwell Francis, program director.

Online courses can reach people who otherwise would not have the opportunity to study the Cherokee language at the university level, said Francis. “The Cherokee people and other people interested in the Cherokee language are spread from here to Oklahoma,” he said. “Good enrollment will help sustain the program, and online students may enter the bricks-and-mortar upper-level courses.”

The Cherokee language program began offering its first-level Cherokee language course online in fall 2008 and is developing an online course for second-level Cherokee.

An online course in Cherokee language makes the language accessible to all high school students in western North Carolina and across the state. “Cherokee Central Schools encourages students to enroll in college-level courses, and we can provide a service to these students,” Francis said. “We can develop their love of learning, and we can develop a pool of students who can come into WCU’s Cherokee language courses at a higher level and get more out of their four years with us.”

Francis also will continue to develop the service-learning courses that the Kituwah Preservation and Education Program identified as critical to the success of the language program. “We work quite closely with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian’s KPEP,” said Francis. “WCU’s Cherokee language program hopes to offer courses on working as an intern in language immersion schools and on community language education program development.”

WCU, the Cherokee Preservation Foundation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians also are among sponsors of the fifth annual Language Revitalization Symposium, to be held June 18-19 in Cherokee. The use of technology to support language revitalization is a main focus of the symposium. With WCU’s Cherokee language program online course offerings and a blog where it posts course material and audio clips of the language, the program already has begun to incorporate technology into its revitalization efforts. “The students especially find the MP3s very helpful,” Francis said.

Other Cherokee language program projects include finishing a first-year textbook and developing drafts for second-year textbooks; developing a set of stories for use in its literature course; and archiving language recordings in collaboration with the Eastern Band.

The Cherokee language is a beautiful and intellectually challenging language, said Francis. “The Cherokee language is a gateway to studying and understanding the Cherokee culture, which is a rich culture with a long history and a well-developed philosophical system,” he said.

For more information about WCU’s Cherokee language program, contact Francis at (828) 227-2303 or hfrancis@email.wcu.edu.