Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Joy of Hearing Cherokee Spoken at the Oscars

Those of you who are familiar with me might know that I am part Cherokee on my father's side.  This came through my great grandmother on my father's side (my grandmother's mother). In fact, both my grandmother and my father looked more Cherokee than they did English or German. As someone who is part Cherokee, I was then delighted to see Wes Studi introduce the Academy's tribute to military films. I was even more delighted when he spoke in the Cherokee language or, more properly, Tsalagi.

For those of you are wondering what it was that Mr. Studi said in Tsalagi, the Cherokee Nation on Twitter translated it as "Hello. Appreciation to all veterans and Cherokees who've served. Thank you!" I am not sure that West Studi was the first Native presenter at the Oscars as many news sources have claimed, but I am fairly certain that he is the first person ever to speak in a Native language at the Academy Awards.

For those of you who are wondering why Wes Studi speaking Tsalagi at the Academy Awards is significant, one must be familiar with the history of Tsalagi and Native American languages in general. From the 19th Century well into the 20th Century, at Native American boarding schools set up by the United States government, children were actively discouraged from speaking their native tongues, including Tsalagi. If they did so they could be severely punished by having their mouths washed out with soap or even beaten with a belt. Sadly, these policies would reduce fluency in Tsalagi greatly. It has only been since the Thirties that fluency in the language has recovered. Indeed, there are now fonts for Tsalagi available for use on computers and even editions of Windows have been released in the language.

I must also point out that, like Wes Studi (who served in the Vietnam War), many Cherokee have served in the military in the United States over the years. Cherokee have served in every single war starting with the American Revolution. In fact, Tsalagi was the first ever Native language used by the American military to transmit messages while under fire. It occurred during the Second Battle of the Somme when a group of Cherokee troops in the 30th Infantry Division (serving alongside British troops) sent messages in Tsalagi in September 1918.

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