Language survey seeks solutions to revitalization
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
MESA, ARIZ. – Could multimedia be the solution to saving the Keetoowah language? United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians member Eddie Webb is attempting to definitively answer that question with a Keetoowah Language Revitalization survey that is open until May 15.
Webb is a professor at Mesa Community College and founded the New Media Lab, which gives students access to an open computer lab with software for, among other things, documentary filmmaking.
“I completed film school and started to integrate film making into my curriculum,” said Webb. “It was so popular with my students I decided to go back to graduate school and earn my doctoral degree in the area of how tribal nations can use multimedia in our cultural revitalization efforts.”
As part of his doctoral dissertation Arizona State University, Webb made the decision to specifically focus on Keetoowah revitalization efforts.
“The basis of the project is to understand how multimedia projects can motivate tribal members to participate in five cultural makers: language, land, ceremonies, history and community,” said Webb. “I think the five areas I have identified are important to our identity. So, we will see if members are motivated by the visional arts to participate in those areas.”
As part of the survey, participants will be asked five questions before watching a 38 minute video that shows interviews with various Keetoowah members about the Cherokee language. Once complete, the survey will ask an additional five questions.
Webb largely filmed the video at the Delaware County Library in Jay, Oklahoma, after John Hair Cultural Center and Museum Director Ernestine Berry organized a meeting of first language speakers.
“We wanted to capture the elders speaking,” said Webb. “We decided to just let the camera roll and keep everything. It was deep for me. I have been blessed to work in the entertainment industry with well-known folks, but being with the elders and having the privilege to film them will remain the most important project I have ever produced.”
Webb was also able to sit down with former UKB Chief John Hair to discuss how language is an integral part of the Keetoowah culture.
“It’s hard to express my gratitude after filming Chief John Hair at his home,” said Webb. “It is always special to film someone of history, but that day will remain forever etched in my memory. Having Chief John Hair call you ‘brother,’ well it just does not get better than that.”
Once filming was done it took Webb several months to edit and translate the video.
“Director Berry, speaker Clara Proctor, and others worked with my team to translate the words. This took several weeks alone,” said Webb. “I showed the film to the Cherokee organization in Phoenix, Arizona. They loved it. Some of them cried just hearing the language they grew up with and had lost. I am just happy people from all over can hear the beautiful sounds of our language and of elders singing.”
In addition to determining if multimedia is a key strategy to saving the language, Webb also wants to understand how tribal members relate to inherent sovereignty and how they connect to traditional spiritual teachings.
“I want to understand how important ‘inherent sovereignty’ is for the survival of Indian nations," he said. "Like most tribal members I was raised with a sense of conservative values. Family, faith, military service, being of service to the community, and the importance of education. I was also raised in the community of the hard-working poor. As an older person, I realized how devastating colonialism has been to the identity of indigenous peoples. I want people to remember that our identity, and that our existence comes directly from God, not man.”
Once his research is complete, Webb hopes to share his results with the UKB.
The Keetoowah Language Revitalization program survey closes May 15. To participate, Keetoowah members can visit https://tinyurl.com/y3mvkglx and complete the survey. It is strictly voluntary and participants must be at least 18 years of age.