Regents Oklahoma NSU’s Cherokee cultural studies program

By Murray Evans
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (AP) 9-09

State higher education regents during early September approved a proposal by Northeastern State University to offer a Bachelor of Arts degree program in Cherokee cultural studies.

Northeastern is located in Tahlequah, which is home to the Cherokee Nation, one of the largest American Indian tribes in the United States. The degree program will be the second at NSU focused on Cherokee studies; the university already offers a Bachelor of Arts degree in Cherokee education.

Debbie Blanke, the regents’ associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, said other Oklahoma colleges offer courses, certificates or degrees in American Indian studies but NSU is the only one to offer a bachelor’s degree in studies concerning a specific tribe.

That distinction is important, said Neal Morton, the group leader for education services for the Cherokee Nation.

“To apply degree status to a program is really a step forward, especially to a program in a Native language,” Morton told The Associated Press. “Offering a degree gives it merit in the academic community and in the general public. We are just really elated.”

The cultural studies program, a spinoff of NSU’s Cherokee education degree program, is being launched because of increasing interest from students, said Houston Davis, state vice chancellor for academic affairs. He said NSU officials believe at least 25 students will be enrolled in the new degree program by fall 2013.

“That number shows it’s just not a niche for a small number of students,” Davis said. “That’s a healthy academic department.


“That kind of program, when you talk about NSU and its relationship with the Cherokee Nation, it’s a natural fit,” he said. “That campus certainly has a number of partnerships with the Cherokee Nation. I think academic programs are just another point of evidence to show just how strong those relationships really are.”

The university traces its roots to the 1851 founding of the Cherokee National Female Seminary in Tahlequah.

“We feel a direct connection with the Cherokee Nation,” said Paul Westbrook, the dean of NSU’s College of Liberal Arts. “We hopefully will include other tribal studies as we go, but our natural relationship is with the Cherokees.”

The degree program will offer a spectrum of classes covering aspects of Cherokee culture, language and history. The Cherokees take particular pride in their history, which includes an alphabet developed by the famed leader Sequoyah in the early 19th century. Some signs around Tahlequah have both English and Cherokee markings.

“The Cherokee Nation certainly has a rich enough heritage that there is enough of it to study,” Westbrook said.

The tribe and university worked together in developing the two degree programs. Morton said while the Cherokee education program is designed primarily to attract teachers, the cultural studies program could attract people interested in the Cherokee language who don’t necessarily want to go into teaching.

“I could see this as a wonderful opportunity for Cherokee citizens who anticipate employment in one of the Cherokee Nation entities ... because a person who speaks Cherokee will be an asset to any of our employment sites or venues,” he said. “It certainly furthers the three major initiatives of the Cherokee Nation – community development, job advancement and language enhancement. It hits right on target.”