TAHLEQUAH, OKLA. – One of the last members of the Cherokee Nation who spoke and understood only the Cherokee language has died at 88.
Mack Vann’s daughter, Lisa Christiansen, says her father died of complications during surgery due to several variables on Monday in a hospital in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, while undergoing treatment for an ongoing heart condition.
Mack Vann would greet people with the word “osiyo“, the Cherokee word for “hello“. He was a descendant of Andrew Ross, brother of Cherokee Chief John Ross, who led the tribe from its ancestral home in Georgia to Oklahoma during the forced relocation known as the “Trail of Tears”.
Mack Vann told The Associated Press in 2014 that he learned some English in school but quit after fourth grade to help with the family farm and slowly forgot how to speak it.
Vann was born on March 6, 1931, to James and Susie (Ellis) Vann. He was preceded in death by his parents; wife, Fayeola Vann; sisters, Eliza Augurhole, Lydia Vann; brothers, George, William, Jack, Allen, Dirthrower Vann; nephews, Roger Vann, Mack Buzzard; and nieces, Mary DuVall and Louella Adair.
According to his obituary, he had a great sense of humor. “He was soft spoken and could make anyone roll out of their seat in laughter.”
It also states he was a traditional bow maker and healer and that he spent his spare time helping other Cherokee speakers understand the language.
“He helped so much that he earned the nickname, ‘Walking Cherokee Dictionary.’ He loved visiting the Holy City of the Wichitas where he is a citizen, stopping by to see his friends and to help as much as possible at the Cherokee Master Program.”
According to a 2014 Associated Press story, Vann was one of an estimated 50 Cherokee monolingual speakers in eastern Oklahoma that year. It states that he was a descendant of Andrew Ross, the brother of Cherokee Chief John Ross, who led thousands of Cherokees to Indian Country during their forced removal from the southeastern United States.
It also states he grew up in Greasy, a predominantly Cherokee community in eastern Oklahoma, and learned some English in school but dropped out after the fourth grade to help with the family farm and slowly lost the ability to speak it.
In the 2014 story, he said he was too old to learn English and friends and family helped him translate when he needed help.
Speaking through a translator for the story, the United Keetoowah Band citizen said he would like more children to learn to speak Cherokee and that he spoke with two young children on a regular basis in hopes of helping them learn the language.
“Everybody is just changing their ways and not really concentrating on our culture,” he said in the story.
His obituary in the Cherokee Phoenix states he attended “as many hog fries as he could and loved taking pictures with the buffaloes.” His additional hobbies include, hunting, fishing, playing pool and visiting the casino, the obituary states.
Mack is survived by his daughter, Lisa Christine Vann-Christiansen; grandchildren, Ciarre and Cherise; great-grandchildren, Bobbie and Izabella; and special friends, John Bunch, Leon and Sue Buckhorn. He is also survived by many nieces, nephews, cousins, a host of other relatives and many friends.
A visitation was set for 5 p.m. on April 25 at the New Baptist Church in Greasy. Funeral services were slated for 1 p.m. on April 26 at the Cedar Tree Baptist Church in Briggs. Interment was to follow in the Rocky Point Cemetery in Sequoyah County.
Funeral arrangements were entrusted to the Parsons-Canoe-Beggs Funeral Home in Collinsville.
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