Rev. Robert Bushyhead; Cherokee Linguist

From Times Staffand Wire Reports

The Rev. Robert Henry Bushyhead, a Cherokee linguist best known for his work to preserve the Kituhwa dialect of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, has died. He was 86.

Bushyhead died Saturday in a Cherokee hospital.

The tribal elder and his daughter started recording the dialect on video and audio in 1992. The recordings are used in Cherokee schools as part of the Cherokee Language Project, enabling Cherokee youth to hear the language spoken correctly and fluently.

Born on the Cherokee Reservation in the Carolinas, Bushyhead was 6 when he first heard English.


He was sent to a government boarding school where he and other young Cherokees were forbidden to speak their language.

“Many times we went down into the furnace room where nobody would see us and [would] start talking Cherokee,” Bushyhead said some years ago. “We would just be getting started good when they caught us. And they punished us as violently for speaking the Cherokee language as they would have if they caught us smoking or chewing.”

Bushyhead said those crackdowns went a long way toward destroying the use of the language.

Bushyhead went on to graduate from Carson Newman College and was an ordained Southern Baptist minister.

But Bushyhead refused to forget the Kituhwa dialect.

“No other language sounds exactly like it, and we want to preserve this,” he once said.