Project History

Our Beginnings

This initiative arose from and builds on work originating with indigenous peoples themselves; it closely involves the tribal representatives in its design and conduct, and its results are theirs. Although DAILP is hosted at Northeastern University, all aspects of the pilot of our site and subsequent use of this infrastructure takes their motivation and momentum from the work already being done by and in close collaboration with members of Indigenous Nations and communities.

The Digital Archive for American Indian Languages Preservation and Perseverance (DAILP) builds on a 2014 IMLS SPARKS Ignition planning grant by Ellen Cushman at Michigan State University, “Analyzing Ojibwe and Cherokee Manuscripts: Proof of Concept for a Digital Archive,” in which MSU faculty, tribal representatives, and Cherokee and Ojibwe community members created and tested designs for an interface to facilitate the translation of Cherokee and Ojibwe manuscripts housed in archives and libraries around the country. This process yielded a decision tree for selecting manuscripts and determining cultural sensitivity; a set of interface elements and an understanding of how navigational and organizational features affect usage by translators and language learners; and conclusions about methods for transcription and translation that can meet the needs of language learners, archivists, and scholars. In 2015 Cushman joined Northeastern University’s English Department and began working with the library’s Digital Scholarship Group (DSG) to explore the development of a full-scale archive of Cherokee manuscript documents aimed at language learning, preservation, and perseverance.

Where We Are Now

Over the spring and summer of 2020, we worked with translators from the Cherokee Nation to create an initial digital collection of over 25 Cherokee language documents including source images, transcriptions, translations, and linguistic annotations. In addition to annotating these documents with linguistic information, one of our major accomplishments has been creating a workstream that allows us to seamlessly encode our annotations into TEI in a digital format and developing the digital infrastructure to support this work going forward. We have standardized a process to convert our existing Cherokee document transcriptions into digitally accessible texts. Using these digital versions of the Cherokee texts, we have created a database and website that links Cherokee words together by meaning and displays this information in a way that can be used by language learners of all levels, in addition to scholars of linguistics and anthropology.

This sample collection contains five different genres of Cherokee writing, including funeral notices, church notes, letters, stories, and government documents, that can now be found online by learners of the language and scholars in the field. Each document can now be viewed online in a multi-layered format, from the perspectives of beginner, intermediate and advanced learners, to reveal document translations, word-by-word translations, and explanations of linguistic structures to help learners better understand how words and phrases are created in the Cherokee language. This online environment represents one possible product created as a result of collective translation efforts. We are working with tribal community partners, scholars, and archivists to make sure that this reading environment allows users to discover documents, read source documents and translations, search for words, and explore linguistic information for specific words.

Why This Is Important

Our goal is to create an easy to use and easy to navigate interface that brings together the Cherokee syllabary, English translation, and word-by-word breakdown in a way that supports language learners of all levels to learn the Cherokee language in the context of historically and culturally meaningful documents. The documents used in this sample collection though currently available through our partners @TranscribeYale in the Kilpatrick collection are inaccessible for many new language learners wanting to practice the language while also learning about Cherokee language, culture, and history, as well as to scholars who may want to search within or across these documents. We are using the Cherokee language resources available to us in print and online, collecting them in one place, and applying them to these historical documents. Our online reading environment puts these documents in a digital format that can be accessed by language learners from anywhere online and enriches them by linking them to the dictionary and lexical datasets donated to our team by linguists and the Cherokee Nation.

Where We’re Headed Next

Our next step is to illustrate these translations with digital images of the original documents and to create a glossary of linguistic terms for learners and scholars alike. Using the digital environment we’ve created so far as a starting point, we will also continue to work with the Cherokee community and our advisory board to improve our understanding of how this online learning space can be embedded in existing language-related practices, and to identify additional features that would enhance translation and language teaching and learning practices. To ensure that DAILP can be useful to a wide variety of end-users, this planning process will be conducted in collaboration with a variety of Cherokee language translators, readers, writers, and learners.

Beyond this next step, our next major goal is to make our digital environment into a collaborative space where native speakers of the Cherokee language and scholars in the field can contribute their knowledge where we may have gaps. We recognize that we do not have all the answers when it comes to the Cherokee language, and we are working towards bridging our work with the tools CERES and CHARON to allow for collective authoring of our documents, and the archiving of that collective authoring.

Awards and Grants

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

As of February 2021, we have received support from The Henry Luce Foundation’s Indigenous knowledge initiative. Established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time, Inc., the Henry Luce Foundation seeks to enrich public discourse by promoting innovative scholarship, cultivating new leaders, and fostering international understanding.

We have also been fortunate enough to receive funding and support from Northeastern University’s Tier 1 Seed Grant and the Undergraduate Research and Fellowship’s PEAK Awards. In Summer 2020, Naomi Trevino received a Summit Award, and in Fall 2020, Naomi Trevino and Taylor Snead both received Summit Awards.