Co-producers LeAnne Howe (Choctaw), James M. Fortier, (Ojibway), as well as scholar Jace Weaver, and Grace Milley (Production Assistant) arrived in Tahlequah, Oklahoma on Tuesday, March 8. We scouted locations after Jace Weaver made arrangements with the folks at the Cherokee Nation to film in the Cherokee National Museum.
For the next four days, James Fortier (Director and DP) filmed in various locations on the grounds of the Museum and Heritage Center. While in Tahlequah we also filmed on the campus of Northeastern State University along with other locations within the confines of the Cherokee Nation.
On Friday, March 10, we filmed a group discussion with five of Sequoyah’s lineal descendants on the grounds of the Cherokee National Museum complex. They included John Ross, Nathan Wolfe, Sequoyah Guess, Winnie Guess Perdue, and Verna Bates. Our goal was to make connections between Sequoyah and his living descendants. Joshua Nelson, Cherokee citizen and Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma, led the group discussion with the help of Jace Weaver, UGA professor and Director of the Institute of Native American Studies.
We also filmed interviews with Roy Boney Jr., Cherokee artist, and Language Program Manager of the Cherokee Nation; Candessa Tehee, Executive Director of the Cherokee Heritage Center, Daniel Justice, Cherokee citizen and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture at the University of British Columbia. Justice flew to the US to be part of the film on Searching for Sequoyah. Many thanks, Daniel for all your support! We also filmed an interview with our adviser Jace Weaver.
Over the course of the four days we also filmed a walk and talk with Joshua Nelson and Roy Boney in the Cherokee Heritage Museum. We conducted research on items in the museum that directly related to Sequoyah.
What makes this project so compelling is that very little is known about Sequoyah. He’s a mystery to his own people. What was he like? Who were his confidents in the tribe? Did he study other syllabaries, and if so from what region of the world? There are but a few languages that use syllabic writing today. According to Wikipedia there are seven languages that still use syllabic writing and Cherokee is one of them.
There are also Cherokee intellectual and spiritual questions to ponder in the film. For example what would be the effect on Cherokee spirituality and practices if the syllabary had never been invented?
After inventing the Cherokee Syllabary, over ten years in the making, Sequoyah continued to make improvements in the language and numbering system he created. In his later years Sequoyah, always a traveler, went to San Fernando Mexico with his son to purportedly bring back the Mexican Cherokees his region of the country, now Arkansas. He never returned. What became of Sequoyah and the Mexican Cherokees and syllabary in Mexico? What became of his family that were living in San Fernando, Mexico? These are but a few of the questions we will discover on our journey.