CHEROKEE, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in the western part of North Carolina have been working hard to preserve their rich culture especially the Cherokee language and COVID-19 has made it more urgent.
"Pre-COVID, we had 200, a little over 200, 220 fluent Cherokee speakers left," Principal Chief Richard Sneed said. "And, I think we're down to 182 now. It's like losing a national treasure, so it's extremely dramatic."
Sneed and the Cherokee Indians Speakers Council are now working to develop a formal, immersive language program for the more than 16,000 tribal members to ensure more fluent speakers develop.
The native language that Eastern Band Cherokee have been speaking for more than 1,000 years is severely endangered, according to Unesco.
The adoption of English for younger generations and an aging population of first-language Cherokee speakers also contributes to the cultural problem.
Sneed addressed the Speakers Council at a November 5, 2021 meeting becoming emotional talking about returning to the core values of the tribe, which can't be separated from the language.