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Native speakers on Covid-19 vaccine priority list as Cherokee Nation looks to prevent culture erosion by pandemic

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The Cherokee Nation in the US has included native speakers in the priority group to be vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), besides healthcare workers, in an effort to preserve the already dwindling population during the pandemic. And, the decision is an initiative to save their culture and identity as the Cherokee Nation has only 2,000 fluent speakers of the language.

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What is the Cherokee Nation?

The Cherokee Nation is the sovereign tribal government settled in Indian territory present-day Oklahoma, United States. It is the largest tribe in the United States with more than 380,000 tribal citizens worldwide. The new government was established by the Cherokee people in the city of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. A constitution was also adopted 68 years earlier to the statehood of Oklahoma in September of 1839.

The main aim of the Cherokee Nation is to protect the inherent sovereignty, preserve and promote their culture, language and values, and to improve quality of life for the next seven generations of Cherokee Nation citizens.

Covid-19 and the Cherokee Nation

Around 141,000 tribal citizens reside in the reservation boundaries of northeastern Oklahoma. The tribe recorded 12,759 coronavirus disease cases and 73 deaths till date, as per the Cherokee Nation health dashboard. More than 30 who lost their lives due to the pandemic were native language speakers of the Cherokee Nation, according to the tribe reported CNN.

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“When you lose a speaker and you’re a tribe that has only 2,000 fluent speakers left, you’ve lost something that isn’t just irreplaceable, as all life is, but is really a national treasure,” principal chief Chuck Hoskin Jr was quoted as saying by CNN. “Whether they survive and whether they pass down their knowledge will help determine in a couple of generations if there is a Cherokee language left,” he added.

Vaccination target

The tribal government received the first consignment of Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine of 975 doses on December 14 last year. More than 600 native speakers have been vaccinated so far and the government targets vaccinating 1000 by the end of the week, reported CNN.

Prioritisation of native language speakers and people aged 65 years and beyond have also imbibed the tribal citizens with the trust in the vaccine. Hoskin said that the prioritisation of native speakers and elders has resulted in easing the anxieties of the citizens against the vaccines.

“People revere elders in the Cherokee Nation. I think when they saw that group of people being made a high priority and celebrating it, that surely has built some confidence,” Hoskin was quoted as saying by CNN.

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