Monday, March 26, 2012

Day 11 and 12 for We Still Live Here

Day 11: Eastern Tennessee State University

I woke up in my brother Roger's sunny house to the sound of oatmeal boiling and the Big Pine Creek rushing along (he literally lives up the creek).  Worked for a while in a hopeless attempt to keep up with obligations, phone calls etc.  At noon we headed across the French Broad River for lunch and then to Hot Springs for a hike up Lover's Leap. Hiking along the Appalachian trail, I was pondering the fact that hundreds of miles north this same trail winds through Salisbury CT for 13 miles, passing less than a mile from my home in Lakeville.  Made me homesick for Charles and Cassius.

We had a good Thai dinner in Johnson City with film professor Shara Kay Lange and her husband Dan, both lovely and friendly and interesting folks that I wished I had had more time to get to know, then headed to the auditorium. The audience, a mix of students, professors, and people from the community, were really enthusiastic and engaged in the film and the issues it raises.  After the lively Q+A and a 90 minute drive, I was still wired when we arrived back at my brother's house to sleep.

Day 12: Cherokee and Western Carolina University

 We woke up to a rainy day in the mountains, drove down to Marshall for tea and emailing at actor/producer Tony Torn's Good Stuff Cafe, then headed out for a day of adventure.  First stop, Cherokee, the commercial and governmental center for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, looking forward to seeing the New Kituwah Cherokee language immersion school that we featured on the Our Mother Tongues
website, a companion site for We Still Live Here.  (Please visit

We met Gill Jackson, director and one of the founders of New Kituwah, for lunch, then headed to the school.  There, all classes are taught in the Cherokee language, and English is not allowed.  We were thrilled and honored to be invited to visit the school.

These second grade students have been part of New Kituwah since they were babies when it was founded.  It was fun  to watch them engage with their teacher during a lesson about half notes, full notes, quarter notes, all in Cherokee.  New Kituwah has become a model school for many Native communities working to preserve and revitalize their languages.  The Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project, featured in We Still Live Here, is hoping to found an immersion school in 2015, where all subjects will be taught in Wampanoag.  Like New Kituwah, the plan is to begin with kindergarten and add a grade every year so that students can continue their education in their language as they move up through the grades.

Cherokee elder Myrtle Driver is translating Charlotte's Web into the Cherokee syllabary!  They are planning to record all of the voices and have already cast the roles according to the personalities the school's staff.  This should be a delightful addition to the curriculum.

We also met with Bo Lossie, a teacher at New Kituwah who is also featured on the  Our Mother Tongues Videos page, where he talks about discovering the true meaning of his grandfather's words.  Here he is holding a picture here of that same grandfather.

After our great visit to Cherokee, we headed down to our screening at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.  We had a great dinner at Guadalupe's with our host Lorie Davis and with Tom Belt, Cherokee elder and language instructor at the WCU, and linguist Hartwell Francis, Director of the  with the two professors who teach the Cherokee Language Program there.  Then as we were pulling in to the University Center for the screening, there was Gill Jackson, come down to join us.  He is incredibly busy, so it was a terrific surprise to have him there.

We had a great screening and discussion, and a very comfortable night at our comparatively posh digs at the Chancellor's Guest House.  No rest for the weary though - we left at dawn the next morning for Asheville airport and my flight to Savannah.

Stay tuned for the next blog entry - screenings in Savannah, Georgia and Alexandria, Louisiana; then home at last to Charles and Cassius.