TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation is recognizing Friday, Oct. 15 as “Sequoyah Day” in honor of the 200th anniversary of Sequoyah’s creation of the Cherokee Syllabary.
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed an official proclamation declaring Oct. 15 as “Sequoyah Day” during a small gathering Oct. 12 at the Sequoyah’s Cabin Museum in Sequoyah County with members of his cabinet, members of the Council of the Cherokee Nation, and the Cherokee Nation Language Department’s team of Cherokee translators. The Language Department translated the proclamation into Cherokee Syllabary and worked with John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, to produce the Cherokee proclamation on a printing press using special commissioned Syllabary typeset.
“Sequoyah’s creation of the Cherokee Syllabary 200 years ago is one of the driving forces which helped the Cherokee Nation thrive. He gave our people the greatest sword and shield we ever wielded: the ability to communicate with each other and the wider world,” Chief Hoskin said. “Sequoyah’s revolution of thought and literacy sustained us during a period in which we might have met our demise. Now our challenge is to continue the preservation and perpetuation of the language both spoken and written and to make sure future generations can do what our ancestors over the last 200 years have done, which is to further their educations and strengthen our great tribal nation.”
Sequoyah completed the Syllabary in 1821 and the Cherokee Nation adopted the Syllabary as its official written system on Oct. 15, 1825. Today, the Cherokee Syllabary consists of 86 characters.
“When Sequoyah came up with the written language, his creation allowed a Cherokee to show a piece of his heart to another Cherokee miles and miles away,” said Howard Paden, executive director of the Cherokee Nation Language Department. “Today we have our elders and translators helping to translate pieces of written Cherokee Syllabary on documents as old as 150 years. Some of the words haven’t been spoken in decades. Through this work, we are preserving the Cherokee language in such an intricate way. The process is still allowing a Cherokee to share a piece of his heart through that piece of paper, only instead of being miles away, it’s decades or hundreds of years later. We couldn’t have done that without Sequoyah. We couldn’t have done that without the work and efforts of Chief Hoskin, his administration and the Council as well.”
Earlier this year, Cherokee Language Program Manager Roy Boney worked with Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism to commission a special Cherokee Syllabary typeset to produce the proclamation in partnership with John Brown University.
“I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the Cherokee syllabary. I grew up in a home with Cherokee speakers,” Boney said. “I grew up with it, always seeing it. When I went to college I studied graphic design because I was interested in writing and typography. For me to be able to work on this project and have worked with actual moveable type and see how it went from that to the digital era gave me a much greater appreciation for it all.”
The proclamation signed by Chief Hoskin reaffirms the Cherokee Nation’s commitment to protecting and perpetuating the Cherokee language for generations to come. As part of those efforts, Chief Hoskin signed the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act in 2019 to provide an historic $16 million investment into preserving the Cherokee language, the largest language investment in Cherokee Nation history. The late Durbin Feeling dedicated his life to preserving the Cherokee language for future generations, doing more for the Cherokee language than anyone since Sequoyah.
The tribe broke ground in 2020 on the Durbin Feeling Language Center, a 50,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility that will be housed in the former Cherokee Casino Tahlequah. The center will become the long-term home of the Cherokee Language Department, which is comprised of more than a dozen unique programs for Cherokee language perpetuation. For the first time in history, all of the tribe’s language programs will be under one roof when construction is complete. The campus will also soon include homes for Cherokee speakers.
Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner made language preservation and perpetuation a priority because only about 2,000 first-language Cherokee speakers are alive today. In July, Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner signed an agreement with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina to protect and preserve the language, history and culture by working together with Western Carolina University, which is on EBCI land and offers a Cherokee studies minor and Cherokee language courses.