One by one, the names and accomplishments of 50 Indian Elders were shared with an audience of more than 800 at AARP Oklahoma’s 10 th Annual Indian Elder Honors celebration at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, October 2, 2018. As the distinguished honorees were announced, they stood to applause, and a medallion was presented to each honoree.
AARP State Director Sean Voskuhl said, “This event celebrates a lifetime of service from these distinguished elders who have positively impacted their community, family, tribe and nation. Whether they are well-known or exhibit quiet devotion to family and community, this year’s AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder honorees represent what is best about Native American people: love of family, dedication to culture and respect for all people.”
AARP honored teachers, veterans, artists, tribal leaders, and culture preservationists. Among this year’s 50 Indian Elder Honorees from 28 Oklahoma tribes and nations were:
- A third generation, leading metalsmith in the Native American tradition and a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship. (Bruce Caesar, Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma)
- The founder of the Pawnee Seed Preservation Project which fosters a new generation of young food growers and preserves traditional strands of corn which would have come extinct. (Deb Echo-Hawk, Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma)
- A veteran who continued to serve through her work at the Veterans Administration hospital and was elected Mayor at the age of 79. (Nellie Hunter, Choctaw Nation)
- A founding member of the Turtle Island Liars Club and one of the only known Keetoowah Cherokee traditional stone marble makers. (Sammy Still, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees)
- An accomplished poet, playwright, photographer, filmmaker and teacher who was awarded Writer of the Year and Mentor of the Year. (Annettee Arkeketa-Rendon, Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Indians)
- A humble Chief who served his people for more than 50 decades. (Robert L . Yargee, Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town)
- A dedicated teacher who continues her love of learning and is six hours away from completion of a doctorate. (Meredith Wahpekeche, Absentee Shawnee Tribe)
AARP Board Chair Joan Ruff said, “Each one of our honorees, like our founder Dr. Ethel Andrus Percy, has dedicated his or her life to serving their tribes and their communities – and none has let age stand in their way. Dr. Percy would have loved to have been here tonight, and she would have relished meeting each and every one of these Oklahoma heroes.”
Presenting the medallions to the honorees were Joe Ann Vermillion, AARP State President, Joan Ruff, AARP Board Chair, Sarah Jennings, AARP Regional Vice President, and Mashell Sourjohn, AARP Oklahoma Associate State Director of Outreach.
Dr. Judy Goforth Parker, was awarded the Dr. John Edwards Memorial Leadership Award. Dr. Parker is a respected elder of the Chickasaw Tribe. She is a published author, former tribal legislator, and currently serves as commissioner of health policy for the Chickasaw Nation Division of Health. The Dr. John Edwards Memorial Leadership Award honors an individual whose positive impact embodies the spirit of Dr. Edwards, who passed away in 2014.
Voskuhl said the AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors, which has recognized 500 elders from all 39-federally recognized tribes and nations in Oklahoma since its inception in 2009, is the largest gathering of its kind in the state and, perhaps, in the nation. Voskuhl also noted that AARP Oklahoma continues to expand its work on issues affecting Native Americans in the state, particularly working to address health disparities, transportation needs and cultural preservation.