The Cherokee Nation has prioritized native language speakers for the coronavirus vaccine as its population dwindles in the wake of spiking COVID infections.
The nation, which is primarily located in northeastern Oklahoma, is prioritizing the last 2,000 members for the COVID vaccine who can speak in the Cherokee language fluently in an effort to preserve their culture, CNN reported Tuesday.
Native speakers are being vaccinated alongside health care workers after the first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in December, CNN reported, with vaccinations for those 65 and older beginning earlier this month. Around 600 speakers have been vaccinated so far, with a goal of having half of the speakers vaccinated by the end of the week.
Only about 2,000 people in the world can speak the Cherokee language fluently. As Covid-19 spread, that number began to dwindle.
Now the Cherokee Nation is prioritizing vaccinations for Cherokee speakers in an effort to save its culture and identity. https://t.co/TRpRTsdvX8
— CNN (@CNN) January 12, 2021
“When I took office, preserving our language and revitalizing it was a high priority.” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. told CNN, further adding that COVID has emphasized the priority even more.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, as reported by CNN, the Cherokee nation has had 11,800 cases reported with 66 deaths, half of them being native Cherokee speakers. (RELATED: Japan Discovers New Strain Of COVID-19)
“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.” Hoskin Jr. told CNN.
The vaccine rollout in the United States has faced criticism from multiple governors due to the sluggish pace and strict guidelines for vaccinating citizens.