A UA professor is teaching a Cherokee language course this fall, marking the first time it has been offered at the UofA and that an Indigenous language course has been offered on campus.
On Mondays and Wednesdays, Lawrence Panther teaches the new Cherokee I course offered through the Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures. Panther is from Stillwell, Oklahoma, and is a Cherokee Nation citizen.
“I’m very excited about teaching at the university,” Panther said, “This is my first time to ever teach at this level.”
Indigenous Studies program director Sean Teuton recommended Panther for the position after taking a class from him in Siloam Springs. Teuton worked with Linda Jones, a chairperson and associate professor in the WLLC department, to establish the class as part of the university curriculum. They began the process after several students expressed interest in the class to former Chancellor Joe Steinmetz in December 2020, Jones said.
“The timing was great because everything we had really been talking about on campus was about diversity, equity and inclusion,” Jones said. “And so I presented the proposal to my executive committee in the department and received 100% support for offering Cherokee I this fall.”
Providing the course at the UofA is ideal because there are thousands of Cherokee speakers right across the border in Oklahoma, Jones said.
“We hope certainly that this will show Native people that we very much care about the Native communities that exist just across the border and elsewhere in North America, and that we have a lot to learn ourselves,” Jones said.
In addition to teaching at the UofA, Panther works at Stilwell High School in Oklahoma, teaching Cherokee I, Cherokee II and a Cherokee culture class.
For the Cherokee I class at the UofA, Panther focuses on teaching his 17 students basic Cherokee reading and writing skills, mostly using phrases and animal words, he said. He teaches students the written characters representing the sound of the Cherokee language, known as syllabary, which creator Sequoyah finished transcribing in 1821.
“Our alphabet has 26 letters, the Cherokee alphabet has 86 letters,” said Greg Buchanan, a UA Spanish instructor and a student auditing Panther’s class. “But (Sequoyah) created it in such a way that it's relatively simple to learn.”
Buchanan feels privileged to take the Cherokee I class, he said. He found out he has Cherokee ancestry four or five years ago.
Even if he were not part Cherokee, the language course would still interest him, Buchanan said.
“Cherokee is important to this region as close as we are to Oklahoma here — less than an hour away — but knowing I have Cherokee ancestry made it even more interesting, ” Buchanan said.
Panther said it means a lot to him to be teaching in Arkansas at the UofA, because Native Americans of the Cherokee tribe from North Carolina, known as Old Settlers, relocated to Arkansas in the 1700s.
“Also (add) to that the 200 (years ago that) Sequoyah admitted the syllabary,” Panther said. “And that right there, both of those combinations make it exciting for me to teach at the University of Arkansas.”
Cherokee II will be offered in the spring semester, and both Cherokee I and Cherokee III could be offered next fall, Jones said. Eventually, department officials hope to implement a full-time, four-to-five semester course structure for students who want to pursue the Cherokee language, Jones said.