An 88-year-old Muscogee Creek who is a foster grandparent, the oldest living U.S. veteran of the Kaw Nation and a historical preservationist who consulted on the film, “Dances with Wolves,” were among 50 people recognized tonight at the 5th annual AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors.
AARP Oklahoma State President Marjorie Lyons said this event, which has grown into the largest celebration of older Native Americans in the state, is a tribute to the venerated position of honor and respect tribal nations give to their elders.
“Though they come from different backgrounds and cultures, we see in tonight’s honorees, the common bond they share—respect, dignity and service to their fellow man,” she said. “Tonight, we add these names to the distinguished list of past honorees. We say ‘thank you’ and we give thanks for the ways they have touched so many lives in their families, communities and in our state.”
In the past five years, AARP has honored 250 Indian Elders from all 39-federally recognized tribes and nations headquartered in Oklahoma, she said.
Other honorees this year included spiritual and cultural leaders, a world-record powerlifting champion, dancers, veterans and a nationally known chef who creates healthy recipes inspired by indigenous foods.
AARP State Director Sean Voskuhl, who emceed the event, says the Indian Elder Honors is the cornerstone of the association’s ongoing work with Native Americans in the state. Among other projects he highlighted include: a comprehensive survey of the needs and wants of Native Americans in Oklahoma, healthy cooking seminars, food security programs and health care law education for Native Americans.
“AARP’s vision of a society in which all people live with dignity and purpose is also the Indian way,” he said. “We are excited about how we can continue working to make that vision a reality in Oklahoma Indian Country as we continue to build relationships.”
Michael E. Bird, a member of the AARP National Policy Council, delivered the keynote address. Bird, a Santo Domingo-San Juan Pueblo Indian from New Mexico, was the first American Indian to serve as President of the American Public Health Association.
“These elders will leave an indelible impact on their tribes, their families and their communities for many years to come,” he said. “They have our respect and our gratitude for the ways they have helped keep and pass on our tribal traditions and way of life.”
AARP Executive Council member Dr. John Edwards, former Governor of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, was among those who spoke about AARP Oklahoma’s Inter-Tribal Community Group. The community group, which is open to all 50+ Native Americans in Oklahoma, is working on cultural, health and transportation issues that affect Indian Country. To find more information or join this group, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 866-295-7277.
Also speaking was the Reverend David Wilson, Conference Superintendent of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. Wilson talked about AARP’s recent donation to OIMC that was used to directly help older Native Americans impacted by the May tornadoes. AARP donated more than $674,000 to 11 local organizations assisting in tornado relief efforts.
To learn more about all the Native elders honored, click here.