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Jean Bushyhead

Jean Bushyhead

Cherokee language expert Cherokee, NC (Qualla Boundary)
(828) 488-2041 (828) 488-8897 (work)

Jean Bushyhead
Cherokee Language Project Manager

Jean Bushyhead provides Cherokee language resource materials for the classroom and information on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ tribal language program in the schools. Although she did not grow up speaking the language, Jean worked extensively with her father, Robert Bushyhead, to document the grammar and pronunciation of the Cherokee language and to create a series of lessons for use in the Cherokee schools.

Born and raised on the Qualla Boundary, Jean Bushyhead attended Kansas State University for undergraduate and graduate work. When she returned to Cherokee, North Carolina, she taught third through sixth grades in the Cherokee Elementary School for more than ten years. Her work with the Cherokee language began one Saturday when she returned home to find her father unloading boxes of language materials into her hallway. “Do something with this,” he said.

Jean and Robert Bushyhead have worked daily for ten years to document the Kituhwa dialect of the Cherokee language. They created a series of grammar lessons, textbooks, classroom resources, and a computer voice dictionary of the language. The Bushyheads’ efforts have been recognized with a North Carolina Folk Heritage Award and the Mountain Heritage Award.

The Cherokee language has its own written form: a syllabary created by Sequoyah, who created the written language without first being literate himself. After Sequoyah’s syllabary was recognized by the Tribal Council in 1821, nearly all members of the Cherokee nation became literate. At present the Cherokee language is in danger of being lost. In the first half of the twentieth century, Cherokee children were severely punished if they spoke the Cherokee language in the federally-operated schools they attended. As a result, these generations did not pass the language on to their children. Since the tribe began operation of its own schools in 1990, however, the Cherokee language has been taught in preschool and grades K-12 through the efforts of the Bushyheads and others and the support of the Eastern Band.


Jean Bushyhead can accept speaking engagements or present workshops for teachers, students, and other groups. She has given presentations at festivals, conferences, and in classrooms. Call to arrange fees and dates.

Available Services