Animated speaking: New cartoon focuses on Cherokee language

As a child growing up in Northeast Oklahoma, Betty Frogg grew up in a home learning to speak Cherokee first, then English.

Frogg’s parents, Louise Ross Springwater and Lacy Christie, encouraged her to speak their native language at home, even as she became bilingual while attending the Seneca Indian School in Wyandotte, Oklahoma.

Her father’s constant encouragement to retain her language skills continues to resonate with Frogg.

“Dad always told me, ‘Don’t lose the language,’” Frogg said. “He told me I would use it someday to help people.”

Now decades later, Frogg — designated by the tribe as a Cherokee National Treasure — is a basket weaver, practitioner of traditional arts, a first-language Cherokee speaker and a language teacher at the Cherokee Immersion Charter School in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

This summer, Frogg added a new credential to her resume. She became one of four Cherokee voice actors working with the Cherokee Nation, the Oklahoma Film and Music Office, and FireThief Productions to create an animated series called “Inage’i,” which translates to “In the Woods.”

The series follows the adventures of four friends who live in the forests of Turtle Island — Iga Daya’i, a mischievous rabbit; Juksvsgi, a gruff wolf; Anawegi, a conscientious deer; and Kvliwohi, a wise bear.

Frogg portrays Iga Daya’i. The other actors are Harry Oosahwee, another first-language Cherokee speaker; and Lauren Hummingbird and Schon Duncan, two second-language speakers. All are part of the Cherokee Nation Film Office’s Native American talent database.

The series, which draws from Cherokee storytelling tradition, was funded through the tribe’s Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act, a measure designed to preserve and revitalize the Cherokee language.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. hopes the animated series achieves several goals, including encouraging a new generation of Cherokees to learn their native language and giving them a way to make a living using their knowledge.

“Preserving and perpetuating the Cherokee language for future generations requires new avenues that allow us to both share and teach the language,” Hoskin said. “This partnership has produced an animated series pilot that I believe will grab the attention of children and adults alike. Whether they are introduced to the Cherokee language for the first time or reintroduced to a language that they are already familiar with, we are excited about the groundbreaking possibilities this series will create for the Cherokee language in the years to come.”

The pilot is set to debut during Labor Day weekend at the Cherokee National Holiday. While much of the celebration is virtual this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, people will have a chance to view the cartoon and other multimedia projects during a “drive-in” theater performance. It will also be featured online at thecherokeeholiday.com after the presentation.

Frogg said she hopes people of all ages watch the cartoon and fall in love with the characters.

“I’m totally pumped,” Frogg said. “I can’t wait for people to see it. Kids are going to see something they’ve never seen before. Things being said use everyday language. I hope kids fall in love with it.”

Read more: The Joplin Globe

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