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Durbin Feeling, Leader in Effort to Save the Cherokee Language, Dead at 74

Cherokee Nation/Osiyo TV

The Cherokee Nation is mourning the loss of perhaps the greatest contributor to its language since Sequoyah.

Durbin Feeling died at the age of 74. He wrote the Cherokee dictionary and developed versions of the language for computers and smartphones.

Feeling spoke to Osiyo TV last year about his love for the Cherokee language and was asked whether he thought it could be saved.

"It can be, but there’s — there’s a lot of work behind it," Feeling said.

Feeling, a Vietnam veteran, worked for the tribe since 1976 and taught as many people to speak, read and write Cherokee as he could. Last year, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. announced a $16 million investment to keep those efforts going, dubbed the Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act.

Hoskin said preserving Cherokee culture is the true measure of leadership.

"They will measure us and they should measure us as to whether we kept our oath of office to do everything we could to protect, preserve and revitalize the Cherokee language. That is how we will be judged," Hoskin said.

Feeling often taught language classes with his wife, Chris.

"And he taught me personally how to read and write Cherokee. I spoke it, but the reading and writing I didn’t know," Chris Feeling said last year.

The Durbin Feeling Language Center will house all of the Cherokee Nation’s language programs going forward.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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