The history and heritage of thousands of Oklahomans is in danger. Native American languages, once spoken across Green Country, are in the danger of extinction. But right now, many Oklahomans are fighting to keep their heritage alive.
Kathy Sierra's holding on to what she knows, to what she's always known, to the land she remembers as a child, the same Cherokee County fields - gardens full of greens and trees that drop buckets of pecans.
She's holding on to the same little Cherokee church, now only 20-some members left.
Kathy's daughter and grand-daughter, Alayna, go there too.
Kathy's parents spoke Cherokee at home.
"The language is my life. It's what I was when I was little. It's what my grandma and grandpa was and my mother," Kathy said.
But when she raised her own children she did not teach them Cherokee. Most native americans of that generation never learned their native language.
"I'm sad. I regret it that I didn't teach my children," Kathy said. "There's a world, a Cherokee world, that we should have and we've lost it," Kathy said.
Cherokees aren't alone. Of the 39 official Native American languages in Oklahoma, linguists say at least 20 are gone.
Just like the Iowa tribe.
73-year-old Ethel Murray lives in Perkins, Oklahoma near her older sister Mae Murray Sine, who's 82.
They and their cousin Joyce Big Soldier Miller grew up hearing their Iowa language.
"My father would say, 'I get lonesome for my language, to hear my language,'" Ethel said.
Now these women can only remember some of what they knew - words, phrases.
When their parents died, so did their Iowa language.
"When they left, they had all this knowledge and the language, and that's what I miss so much," Mae said.
The sisters say the language started to fade away in the late 1890s. Mae and Ethel's mother was taken from her family and sent to a U.S. government-run boarding school when she was only five.
"When she spoke her language they beat her," Ethel said.
Ethel thinks that's why her mother never pushed her daughters to speak Iowa.
"They didn't want us to go through the same abuse they did," Ethel said.
Their father though, wanted the language to survive. He even had his daughter record him speaking on cassette tape.
"He said, 'I don't want the Iowa language to be lost,'" Mae said.
"I hope our language can go on," Ethel said. "If one person learns and it's instilled in him, it can be carried on."
A couple hours away, in Norman, Oklahoma, a woman is so passionate about Native American languages, she created a collection at Sam Noble Oklahoma Science Museum of Natural History to try to save them.
Even though she's not Native American, Mary Linn believes this is her calling - to revive lost languages.
"It's such a loss for people, it's like losing a member of your family," Mary said.
The University of Oklahoma Professor has been gathering information about Native American languages for a decade.
Resources in books, digitized manuscripts, and audio recordings that are old and new.
People come to the museum to record their language, so it doesn't get lost.
"It's probably the largest issue in Native American tribes now. The language is at the forefront of cultural issues right now," Mary said.
Mary says even if some native languages have no fluent speakers, she doesn't think any are truly dead.
"They're what we call sleeping, and in that case, we want to awaken the languages again," Mary said.
That's what some tribes are trying to do.
Eight years ago, Cherokee nation leaders opened an immersion school in Tahlequah where children only hear and speak Cherokee.
"We realized the need to preserve it teach it promote and do whatever we can to save our language," said Cherokee Education Services Group Leader Corey Bunch.
"It's our identity. It's what makes us Cherokee. It is very important," Corey said.
"I feel we won't have a Cherokee Nation if we don't have the language. It's who we are and who we will always be," Corey said.
Cindy Collins, a fluent speaker, teaches four-year-olds.
"If you learn the language, you learn your heritage, your culture. It's who I am. I'm Cherokee, and that's who I am," Cindy said.
Like so many, she didn't teach her own children her language. And she knows it was a mistake.
"That's their generation that was lost right there," Cindy said.
So she teaches the next generation.
"The language is my heart and soul from the time I was born. This is my life right here," she said, pointing to the classroom. "And I want it to continue on because it's very important to me. My language is everything to me. That's why I come here everyday to teach the kids."
The school's first class is now a group of sixth graders. Alayna, Kathy Sierra's grand-daughter, was one of the first students. She now speaks fluent Cherokee.
"It's such a wonderful, beautiful thing when I hear them speak," Kathy said.
But after school, when her mom picks up Alayna and her brother, it's back to speaking English.
And at home with Grandma, they mostly speak English, so that mom can understand too.
Kathy tries to make a point to speak Cherokee to her grandchildren.
"We're gonna get it back, even if it's just my grandchildren," Kathy said.
But she knows it will be a struggle for Alayna to continue the native language. Alayna will go to middle school next year, all in English.
Kathy knows while she's still here it's up to her to make sure the children, like Alayna, remember and pass on what they know.
"I've never let it go, and I won't let it go, and I'm gonna push it until i die.
So the land, the language, the spirit of the people can live on.
Mae and Ethel from the Iowa tribe are considering taking their father's audio cassette tapes to the museum in Norman, so they can preserve and share the language with others.
At the museum, anyone can preserve Native American audio or other language materials. You can get more information by emailing Mary Linn at firstname.lastname@example.org