BOONE — The eighth annual Selu Lecture will feature a 16-year-old Cherokee High School student who works to preserve and promote the Cherokee language.
The lecture is being sponsored by the Gadugi Partnership. The partnership is between Cherokee High School and Appalachian State University with goals of student recruitment and teacher education at Cherokee High School, with the ultimate goal of working together — the meaning of Gadugi in Cherokee — to preserve Cherokee culture, according to App State.
The lecture is part of the national and international celebration of Women’s History Month, which takes place during March. The lecture theme this year is “The Sound of the Wind: Preserving the Cherokee Language in the 21st Century.”
Each year since 2014 the group has invited a Cherokee female leader to speak to campus about the matrilineal culture of the Cherokee as well as issues confronting Native American women. Sixteen-year-old Caedance Smith, a Gadugi Scholar, will be the keynote speaker at the lecture. Smith is part of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
“At this event, I’m going to be talking about the preservation of our language,” Smith said.
This year is the bicentennial of Sequoyah’s syllabary, which Smith said is why the Cherokee language can be written.
“At this very moment, our language is endangered,” Smith said. “There are very few foreign speakers left and it’s important that we keep and save our language because it’s part of our identity. If we lose it, we lose a part of ourselves. We lose a part of our identity.”
More information on the syllabary can be found at www.sequoyahmuseum.org/history/sequoyahs-syllabary/.
Bryant said he picked Smith to be the keynote speaker because she has taken all three classes App State offers to CHS students, and he sees her dedication to the Cherokee language.
“From the very first class she spoke about her passion to not only learn and preserve the Cherokee language, but to convince her peers to commit as well,” Bryant said. “Such pressure shouldn’t fall onto the shoulders of a 16-year-old, but Caedance takes it on with grace, determination and just plain old hard work. She has spoken to Council and taken a real leadership role in the community. In short, she’s an inspiration and pretty much everything a teacher prays for in a student.”
Smith said she works to preserve her language by teaching and encouraging her younger siblings the language. She said she was also going to talk about the matrilineal culture of the Cherokee.
“Women have always been an important part of the Cherokee,” Smith said. “It’s because they give life. They’re the reason we’re able to expand in our society.”
She said she’s somewhat nervous to speak at the Selu Lecture about these topics because she’s representing her culture and tribe.
As part of the Gadugi Partnership, Smith said she takes a class with Bryant. This spring she and her classmates will work on a project to help their community.
Smith said the class hasn’t started on a project yet, but have an idea: installing blue lights in public bathrooms to curtail drug use. Smith said there’s a specific type of light that when on, people can’t see their veins making it harder to inject drugs.
“We take pride in making sure that you know we help our people as they struggle with addiction, mental illnesses or anything else,” Smith said.
The Selu Lecture will take place at 7 p.m. on March 24 over Zoom. Those wishing to attend can register at tinyurl.com/8ha4yc2u.
More information on the Gadugi Partnership can be found at gadugischolars.blogspot.com.