“Sequoyah Day” celebrates anniversary of creation of the Cherokee Syllabary

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation recognized 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 the official proclamation during a small gathering attended by the Council of the Cherokee Nation, and the Cherokee Nation Language Department’s team of Cherokee translators.

“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.” said Howard Paden, executive director of the Cherokee Nation Language Department.

Provided by Sequoyah in 1821, the Syllabary was adopted by the Cherokee Nation as its official written system on Oct. 15, 1825. It consists of 86 characters.

Cherokee translators worked with John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas to produce the proclamation on a printing press specially commissioned by Cherokee Language Program Manager Roy Boney.

“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.”

Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner have made language preservation a priority, signing an agreement in July of this year with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina to protect and preserve the language, history and culture, with help from Western Carolina University.

The agreement followed the 2019 Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act, which provided a $16 million investment in the Durbin Feeling Language Center, named for the late Feeling who dedicated his life to preserving the Cherokee language. The tribe began building the center in 2020. It will be housed in the former Cherokee Casino Tahlequah and provide a space for the Cherokee Language Department.

“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.” Chief Hoskin said.

Around 2,000 first-language Cherokee speakers are alive today.

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