UVA Wise Hosts Screening of Award-Winning Documentary “ᏓᏗᏬᏂᏏ (We Will Speak)” In Early April.

We Will Speak movie poster

An award-winning documentary depicting the fight to save the Cherokee language will be shown at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA Wise) next week.

On Thursday April 4th at 7 p.m., a screening of the feature length documentary, “ᏓᏗᏬᏂᏏ (We Will Speak),” will be held in the Dogwood and Rhododendron rooms on the fifth floor of the UVA Wise C. Bascom Slemp Student Center. Following the film, there will be a discussion with co-director Michael McDermit. The event is free and open to the public.

The film, “We Will Speak (ᏓᏗᏬᏂᏏ),” is centered around Cherokee activists and their race to save their language. In 2019, the Tri-Council of Cherokee tribes declared a state of emergency because there are less than 1,500 fluent speakers remaining of the 430,000 total members. This documentary features members of three federally recognized Cherokee Tribes: Cherokee Nation, United Keetoowah Band and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

In 2023, “ᏓᏗᏬᏂᏏ (We Will Speak)” was named Winner of the Hibulb Cultural Center Film Festival, Best Oklahoma Feature at the DeadCenter Film Festival, and Best Documentary at Circle Cinema Film Festival. 

UVA Wise’s Center for Appalachia Studies, the College’s Lecture Committee and the Division for Advocacy and Opportunity are co-sponsoring the event.

“This is a rare opportunity to see something so acclaimed and powerful in person. I encourage everybody to come out and bring a friend to learn something about our Appalachian neighbors and understand a little more about their language,” said Amy D. Clark, UVA Wise professor of communication studies and founding co-director of the Center for Appalachian Studies and the Appalachian Writing Project.

The film was shot on location in Oklahoma and North Carolina from 2019 to 2022. Scenes from the film give insight into Cherokee culture that is not typically seen by the general public and sheds awareness on the issue of the language loss in their communities. 

Through intimate interviews, vérité footage of community gatherings and extensive archival materials, the film explores the nuanced ways the Cherokee language is vital to maintaining a unique cultural identity and relationship with the world. The collaborative project is also meant to act as an empowering agent of hope for Indigenous voices despite enduring inequity and oppression, according to the film’s press release.

“This film is important to show the efforts and raise awareness to the challenges present in preserving the language of a group that has historically been marginalized,” Clark said.

Co-Director Schon Duncan (ᎤᎶᎩᎳ) is a member of the United Keetoowah band of Cherokee Indians and was born and raised in Stillwell, Oklahoma.

Duncan, who graduated from Northeastern State University and completed a Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program in 2019, now is a Cherokee Language Teacher at Dahlonegah Public School.  “ᏓᏗᏬᏂᏏ (We Will Speak)” is Duncan’s first film.

“The Cherokee history and personal stories told in this film not only stand to bring awareness of the issue of language loss, but also are meant to inspire people to join into the work of ongoing language revitalization. This documentary represents my greatest effort of reaching the widest audience about this work to showcase the warriors and elders who are in the trenches, hoping you join the fight,” said Duncan in a press release statement.

Duncan partnered with co-director McDermit, who makes and produces documentary films under a small independent creative imprint, Blurry Pictures. His film, “Strawberry Forever” about his father’s struggle with aphasia won the Audience Award at the 2021 disABILTY Film Festival. He holds and MFA in creative writing from the University of Oregon and teaches English and writing to college students in South Los Angeles.