Common Purpose, Common Struggle

Rising Voices/ Hótȟaŋiŋpi is coming to public television stations later this year! Until then, a new documentary film about a Native people’s language revitalization effort has been released and aims for broadcast on the PBS series Independent Lens.

First Language: The Race to Save Cherokee was made by filmmaker Neal Hutcheson for TalkingNC — The Language and Life Project at Western Carolina University, and had a screening at the recent Linguistic Society of America Conference. The story follows the Cherokee communities of western North Carolina through struggles similar to those faced by the Lakota language effort, as all indigenous peoples encounter the same issues around language: How many fluent speakers are left? How old are they?

CherokeeFIlm2(photo courtesy of the Language and Life Project, Western Carolina University)

The Cherokee began their language work in earnest with far fewer living speakers than Lakota have had – and the Cherokee speakers, too, are passing away quickly. One teacher in the film says that Cherokee “loses 18 speakers a year.” The tribal schools have had Cherokee classes and summer camps, but the recent addition of an immersion preschool and an immersion elementary school give greater hope that Cherokee and its unique, Cherokee-made alphabet can survive.

First Language: The Race to Save Cherokee premiered in November 2014 at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, NC and won the “Best Public Service” prize at the 2014 American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco.

TLC congratulates Hutcheson, his filming partner Danica Cullinan and the Language and Life Project, for bringing high-quality film value and attention to Native American language loss.

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