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Museum Hosts Spring Gathering for Language Instructors and Students

By Marilyn Craig | John Hair Cultural Center & Keetoowah Museum

TAHLEQUAH, OK— Keetoowah language instructors and their students, along with John Hair Cultural Center and Museum staff and volunteers and some members of UKB tribal council, and the Keetoowah Unikusda Group came together on a Friday, May 17, from noon to 4 pm for a traditional meal, fellowship, and some friendly competition. The event was a part of the Community Pilot Program for Keetoowah Conversational Language. This program was funded in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. 


Keetoowah language instructors in attendance included John Chewey, Cindy Hair, Tyler Hodges, Alice Wilder, Ronnie Livers, Oleta Pritchett, and Clara Proctor. JHCCM staff included Director Ernestine Berry, Assistant Director Barbara Girty Foster, Marilyn Craig, Raelie Grayson, and Kyndal Aimerson. Volunteers helping that day included Norma Jimerson, Dama Still and Carolyn Swimmer. Unikusda members attending included Cody Robinson and Victoria Holland.


The language gathering held at the Tahlequah district community building (old Speedway) was organized by the museum staff and volunteers. Keetoowah culture bearer Betty Holcomb prepared a traditional meal of hog meat, potatoes, beans, frybread and grape dumplings. After blessing the meal, everyone enjoyed this delicious feast.  


Language instructor Ronnie Livers led the group in a gospel singing with songs sung in the Keetoowah language. Some of the songs sung that day include Amazing Grace, Beautiful Home, Guide Me Jehovah, and Sunday School Song. Hearing all those voices singing in the native language and harmonizing was a powerfully beautiful sound, which invoked both goosebumps and tears for some. 


Then the group went outside for a ring toss tournament. Referred to by the old timers as a game of “rubbers,” the game features a handmade board with cup hooks marked with values from 1 to 20 written in the language. The rings used were the old-style canning rubber rings used to seal jars. Standing about 12 feet away from the board, players attempt to toss the rubber rings onto the cup hooks to accumulate points.  Alice Jumper and Dondi Atkins won the competition and were each awarded a gift bag from the museum gift shop. 


The final activity of the day was a language bowl competition, complete with buzzers and lights. Jarrett Hammer, Charlotte Teehee and Wahlia Teehee were the winners of the competition. 

They each received a gift bag and a $50 gift card to the Keetoowah museum gift shop.  


“This was the first language gathering for our Keetoowah language students and teachers. Everyone involved seemed to have a good time--I heard many positive comments,” said Director Berry. Another gathering will be held in August at the end of the language classes.  “We are looking forward to more participation then and with renewed funding, we hope to see the current classes continue into the future,” Berry said. 



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