Cherokee language

SCC student James Hopkins (second from left) is pictured here with, from left: Kathleen Brennan, chair of WCU’s Department of Anthropology and Sociology; Raven Smith, WCU’s Cherokee Language Program media coordinator; and Sara Snyder, WCU’s Cherokee Language Program director.

Over the past 15 years, the Cherokee Language Program at Western Carolina University has compiled and digitized thousands of Cherokee language documents and media files.

The only problem was that staff members had no way to catalog or search for topics within the database.

“We could type in a keyword and get zero results – or we might get a thousand results and have to sift through each one to find what we’re looking for,” said Sara Snyder, director of the Cherokee Language Program at WCU. “That could take hours.”

Enter James Hopkins, a student in Southwestern Community College’s Computer Information Systems program. He needed to complete a work-based learning internship before completing his degree, and his coding skills were exactly what WCU’s team needed to categorize the Cherokee language files.

Hopkins has poured hundreds of hours into the project, which will soon make searching for keywords and files thousands of times easier for Snyder and her colleagues.

“The archive project is vital to WCU’s contributions to Cherokee language revitalization,” Snyder said. “There are only about 200 first-language speakers of Cherokee remaining, and our final goal is to make all of our materials accessible and searchable remotely via website. We are extremely grateful for all the work James has been doing for us.”

The materials Hopkins is working to archive were collected and created by Snyder, Raven Smith (CLP media coordinator), previous Director Hartwell Francis and retired Cherokee language coordinator Tom Belt in collaboration with community partners of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Hopkins is working under the supervision of Dean Russell, SCC’s work-based learning coordinator. Work-based learning is an education-based arrangement that provides practical working and learning experiences for SCC students, giving them roots in the college’s service area of Jackson, Macon and Swain counties and the Qualla Boundary.

“We’re extremely proud of the work James is doing in WCU’s Cherokee Language Program,” Russell said. “Having the chance to assist WCU’s faculty in preserving these historical documents is a wonderful opportunity. He’s demonstrating the skills that will make him employable after graduation, and he’s a prime example of how our students can benefit the community through work-based learning.”

For more information about work-based learning at SCC, contact Russell at 339-4482 or

To learn more about Southwestern, visit, call 339-4000.