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Cherokee Heritage Center exhibit celebrates Cherokee language

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  • Robert Schmidt
    http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/3752/Article.aspx Video: Cherokee Heritage Center exhibit celebrates Cherokee language By Will Chavez Staff Writer PARK HILL,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 22, 2009
      http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/3752/Article.aspx

      Video: Cherokee Heritage Center exhibit celebrates Cherokee language

      By Will Chavez
      Staff Writer

      PARK HILL, Okla. – Cherokee artists who contributed artwork to the
      “Generations: Cherokee Language through Art” exhibit met each other and the
      public June 6 at the Cherokee Heritage Center.

      For the exhibit, artists were asked to create a visual narrative of the
      Cherokee language using a different character from the Cherokee syllabary.
      The 93 artists who volunteered their time are from the Cherokee Nation,
      United Keetoowah Band and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and range in
      age from 3 to 91.

      “We have a very eclectic group of people, which is exactly what we wanted,”
      said CHC Museum Curator Mickel Yantz. He said artists used ink, paint,
      quilts, a television set, baskets, wood and ceramics to create 85 original
      pieces of work. “Just about every single medium you can think of we have on
      display.”

      Harry Oosahwee of Tahlequah is a fluent Cherokee speaker and has been
      working with the CN’s language program for five years. He created art for
      the “we” sound in the syllabary using acrylic paint.

      “With the situation our language is in today, whatever we do to teach the
      language is important, and this is one of the ways we could do that,” he
      said.

      Oosahwee said he was pleased the museum gathered Cherokee people to create
      the exhibit’s art, which will be on display through Aug. 16.

      Yantz said the exhibit is meant to help with the tribe’s effort to
      revitalize the language and to support the arts.

      “I thought it would be a great opportunity to put the two together and have
      a project that families could work on together,” he said.

      Teri Rhoades of the Pettit Community assisted Yantz with the exhibit and
      traveled the area finding friends, family and acquaintances to create art
      for the exhibit and a companion book and DVD, which are for sale at the CHC
      gift shop. She also recruited students from the CN immersion school, Head
      Start program and Sequoyah Schools.

      Rhoades said some people initially didn’t want to participate because they
      didn’t consider themselves artists. She said she told them “it’s not about
      the art; it’s about what the syllabary means to you.”

      She said she encouraged no one to choose a particular medium, only giving
      them the dimensions and the encouragement to use a medium they enjoyed
      working with.

      “The making of the book and DVD gets our language out there. It’s bright
      colored. It’s fun to look at, and the words and sounds on the DVD are quick
      and flow by very nice, which is what kids these days are used to,” Rhodes
      said. “It makes our language accessible and keeps it a living thing. We’re
      going to lose our language if we don’t bring it to a broader audience.”

      Rhiannon Jackson of Tahlequah created a small throw pillow with the “wa”
      sound in the syllabary sewed on it. She said she “picked up” a lot of art
      skills from when she was worked at the CHC’s Ancient Village and wanted to
      use those skills in the exhibit to help save the language.

      “It keeps our culture going. It keeps our language going. It’s awesome,”
      she said.

      The artists’ works are on display on the museum’s walls, and in the center
      of the exhibit area, a slideshow displays each character on a large screen
      with accompanying audio of a Cherokee man, woman and child pronouncing each
      syllabary character.

      Today, the CN uses 84 of the 86 characters developed by Sequoyah in the
      early 1800s.

      Yantz said he believes the exhibit can serve another purpose by helping
      museum visitors understand how different the language is from other
      languages and how important the language is to Cherokee people.
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