Myrtle Driver Johnson

Myrtle Driver Johnson
Born (1944-05-21) May 21, 1944 (age 75)
Known forCherokee language translation and revitalization

Myrtle Driver Johnson (born May 21, 1944)[1] is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and a native Cherokee language[a] speaker.[3] As of July 2019 she was one of only 211 remaining Cherokee speakers in the EBCI.[4] In 2007 she was given the title of Beloved Woman[1] by her tribe for her work translating into the endangered Cherokee language.

Language work

Johnson serves as the EBCI Tribal Council translator and has translated for the EBCI bilingual immersion school, New Kituwah Academy (NKA), since about 2006.[1] For NKA, she translated Charlotte's Web, the first time the book had been translated into an indigenous American language.[5] Johnson also translated Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons, a novel loosely based on the life of William Holland Thomas that depicts the sociopolitical events surrounding the Cherokee removal. The novel was published by the Museum of the Cherokee Indian press.[5][6] She narrated her translation of Thirteen Moons for the audio book and also narrated Tsogadu Nvdo, a Cherokee language audio book.[6]

Johnson has been active with language and culture camps for children and speakers gatherings for adults.[3] She has also participated in the quarterly Cherokee Language Consortium, a gathering of the three federally recognized tribes[b] to standardize new terms in Cherokee.[1][3]


Johnson was interviewed for the documentary First Language – The Race to Save Cherokee, and was translated as saying that "the children are learning to speak Cherokee, and I feel the Cherokee language is important because the government sees the Indians, but doesn't see them as Indians if they don't speak their own language".[7]

Johnson toured the Cherokee Nation immersion school in Oklahoma before NKA was established and was so moved by seeing a 4-year-old read Cherokee words that she had to step out of the classroom to cry.[1] In 2019, the Tri-Council of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes declared a state of emergency with regard to the future of the Cherokee language.[8] This declaration included a resolution to work together on language revitalization, prompting Johnson to say "when they signed it, they made an agreement with us. They're going to help us. I'm not going to let them forget it."[4]


The Beloved Woman honor, which is rarely given and the highest a member can receive, was given to Johnson in 2007.[1][9]


Johnson's two daughters, Myrna Climbingbear and Renissa McLaughlin, have worked with her on language revitalization. Renissa McLaughlin, also known as Renissa Walker, has managed the Kituwah Preservation and Education Program of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, overseeing NKA.[1][10][11] Johnson's daughter Myrna Climbingbear died at age 56 in June 2018 from cancer.[1][12]

See also


  1. ^ Specifically, Johnson's language expertise is representative of the Kituwah (also known as the Middle or Eastern) dialect of Cherokee.[2]
  2. ^ The three federally recognized Cherokee tribes are the Cherokee Nation (OK), the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (OK), and the Eastern Band (NC).


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Kays, Holly (September 19, 2018). "Cherokee from the heart: Beloved Woman reflects on a wandering life rooted in Cherokee language". Smoky Mountain News. Archived from the original on May 14, 2019. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  2. ^ Hartwell S. Francis (2018). Jeffrey Reaser, Eric Wilbanks, Karissa Wojcik, Walt Wolfram (eds.). Language Variety in the New South: Contemporary Perspectives on Change and Variation. University of North Carolina Press. p. 376. ISBN 978-1-4696-3881-2.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b c "Groups bring new life to the ancient Cherokee language". Carolina Public Press. July 17, 2012. Archived from the original on July 8, 2019. Retrieved July 8, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Knoepp, Lilly (July 3, 2019). "State Of Emergency Declared For Cherokee Language". Blue Ridge Public Radio. Archived from the original on July 4, 2019.
  5. ^ a b Neal, Dale (May 26, 2016). "Beloved children's book translated into Cherokee". Asheville Citizen Times. Archived from the original on July 6, 2019. Retrieved July 6, 2019.
  6. ^ a b "Publications". Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Archived from the original on April 21, 2019.
  7. ^ "First Language - The Race to Save Cherokee". YouTube. Archived from the original on July 26, 2019. 21 minutes and 18 seconds in.
  8. ^ McKie, Scott (June 27, 2019). "Tri-Council declares State of Emergency for Cherokee language". Cherokee One Feather. Archived from the original on June 29, 2019. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  9. ^ "What Does it Mean to be a Cherokee Beloved Woman?". Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Archived from the original on July 12, 2018. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  10. ^ "Grand Marshals chosen for Indian Fair Parade". Cherokee One Feather. September 15, 2015. Archived from the original on February 16, 2019.
  11. ^ Renissa Walker (April 25, 2014) WMYA. Archive url
  12. ^ "Myrna D. Climbingbear – obituary". Cherokee One Feather. June 18, 2018. Archived from the original on July 8, 2019.
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