Cherokee Language

Lilly Knoepp

Earlier this year, the three Cherokee tribes in the U.S. – which includes the Eastern Band of Cherokee in Western North Carolina - announced their language is in a state of emergency because of a shortage of fluent speakers.  Efforts to reverse that have taken on many forms – such as at a summer camp in Graham County.   

 That’s where campers learned to sing this summer’s #1 song - in Cherokee.

“Old Town Road” by Lil NasX was undeniably the song of summer 2019.

But you probably haven’t heard it like this: 

Lilly Knoepp

  The Cherokee language is officially in a state of emergency. The number of fluent speakers has been dwindling for years. BPR spoke with Cherokee language experts about what is being done to teach and preserve their native tongue. 

There are only about 200 fluent Cherokee speakers left in the Eastern Band of the Cherokee(EBCI) and only about 2,000 nationwide.  Leaders in the Eastern Band say that’s not because the language isn’t being taught - but rather a lack of teachers and Cherokee families speaking the language at home. 

Lilly Knoepp

  The Cherokee language is officially in a state of emergency according to the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. Blue Ridge Public Radio sat down with an Eastern Band native speaker at the new Kituwah Academy to learn more. 


Myrtle Driver Johnson is 75 years old. She’s an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and a Beloved Woman. 


Johnson introduces herself in Cherokee before switching to English.