|Died||August 19, 2020 (aged 74)|
Durbin Feeling (Cherokee: ᏫᎵ ᏚᎥᎢᏅ, romanized: Wili Duvinv; April 2, 1946 – August 19, 2020) was an American Cherokee linguist who wrote the first Cherokee–English dictionary. He is considered the greatest modern contributor to the preservation of the endangered Cherokee language.
Feeling was born on April 2, 1946, to Jeff and Elizabeth Feeling in the Little Rock community east of Locust Grove, Oklahoma. Cherokee was his first language; he learned English when he was in the first grade. He began to read Cherokee syllabary when he was 12 years old.
Feeling graduated from Chilocco Indian School (a Native American boarding school) in 1964 and earned an associate's degree from Bacone College in 1966. He was drafted into the Army in 1967 and served as a door gunner during the Vietnam War. He began to write in Cherokee syllabary when corresponding with his mother while he was in Vietnam. He was awarded a Purple Heart, and he was honorably discharged in 1970.
Durbin began his work with the Cherokee language when he returned from Vietnam. In 1975, Feeling co-wrote the first Cherokee–English dictionary. It remains the "standard publication for Cherokee language reference".
Feeling earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northeastern State University in 1979 and earned a master's degree in social sciences from the University of California, Irvine in 1992.
Feeling taught Cherokee at universities including the University of Oklahoma, the University of Tulsa, and the University of California. He authored or contributed to many books and research articles about Cherokee. His materials for Cherokee language learners remain widely used, and many Cherokee language teachers learned directly from Feeling.
Feeling worked for the Cherokee Nation from 1976 to 2020, including in its language translation and technology department. In the 1980s, he added the Cherokee syllabary to a word processor. He also contributed to the addition of the Cherokee syllabary to Unicode, which allows it to be widely available on computers and smartphones.
Feeling was a Baptist lay minister.
He died August 19, 2020.
For his contributions to the preservation of the Cherokee language and Cherokee culture, Feeling was named a Cherokee National Treasure by the Cherokee Nation. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate by Ohio State University. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. has described Feeling as "a modern-day Sequoyah" (referring to the creator of the Cherokee syllabary) and said that "[e]verything we are doing for language revitalization is because of Durbin.” In 2019, the Cherokee Nation chose Feeling as the first signatory of the Cherokee Language Speakers Roll.
The Cherokee Nation's planned language learning center will be named the Durbin Feeling Language Center in his honor. The Sam Noble Museum holds the Durbin Feeling Collection, containing his extensive Cherokee-language materials, including letters written in Cherokee to and from members of Feeling’s family.
On August 4, 2021, the United States Senate Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passed the Durbin Feeling Native American Language Act of 2021. The Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation Chuck Hoskin, Jr. remarked "This bill is named in honor of the largest contributor to the Cherokee language since Sequoyah, the late Durbin Feeling, who advocated tirelessly for Native language and revitalization efforts. No one is more worthy of this honor than Durbin."