Documentary About Cherokee Language Features Discussion with Filmmakers

Mars Hill University will present a film screening and discussion with the filmmakers of “ᏓᏗᏬᏂᏏ (We Will Speak),” a documentary about efforts to preserve the Cherokee language. The event will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, January 22, 2024, in Owen Theatre on the MHU campus. Admission is free.

When the Tri-Council of Cherokee tribes declared a State of Emergency for the language in 2019, it was estimated that about 2,000 people fluently spoke the dialects of Kituwah or Otali. Four-and-a-half years later, that estimate is down to fewer than 1,500. With many of those fluent speakers being elderly, a small group of Cherokee activists are racing against time to save their language from disappearing.

The award-winning documentary was filmed in North Carolina and Oklahoma and features interviews with Cherokee people from all three federally recognized Tribes of Cherokee: Cherokee Nation, United Keetoowah Band, and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The film explores ways in which the Cherokee language is vital to maintaining a unique cultural identity. Filmmakers say the project is intended as “an empowering agent of hope for Indigenous voices despite enduring inequity and oppression.”

Following the screening of the documentary, directors Schon Duncan (ᎤᎶᎩᎳ) and Michael McDermit, producer Keli Gonzales (ᎨᎳᏗ), and cinematographer Jacob Koestler will participate in a discussion with the audience. 

“We Will Speak” has won several awards, including Winner, Hibulb Cultural Center Film Festival; Best Oklahoma Feature, DeadCenter Film Festival; Best Documentary, Circle Cinema Film Festival; Runner Up: Best Indigenous Feature, Albuquerque Film and Music Experience.

The event is sponsored by the university’s Ramsey Center for Appalachian Studies; the Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and the Indigenous Student Association.