7 Cherokees honored at inaugural Seven Feathers gala
Honorees at the Cherokee Phoenix’s inaugural Seven Feathers Award Gala pose with their awards on Nov. 23 at the Cherokee Casino Tahlequah Chota Center. Back row from left are Richard Tyler, Howard Paden, Zachary Self and Cindy Irwin. Front row from left are Janelle Adair, Kaitlyn Pinkerton and Kirby Williams. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Phoenix held its inaugural Seven Feathers Award Gala on Nov. 23 to honor Cherokees making a difference in their communities.
The winners – nominated by members of the public and selected by Phoenix staff – were Janelle Adair for culture, Cindy Irwin for business, Howard Paden for language, Kaitlyn Pinkerton for health, Zachary Self for education, Richard Tyler for service and Kirby Williams for community.
Paden, the Cherokee Nation’s Cherokee Language Master-Apprentice Program manager, was the night’s first recipient. He called on all Cherokee speakers in the audience to stand and be recognized.
“It’s an honor to have this award,” Paden said. “But I did want to honor our speakers.”
Paden, who was described as a Cherokee “language warrior,” listed a number of CN master speakers. “These are the guys that we think of when we think of awards because of all the things they went through to help us save this language,” he said. “They’re still doing it.”
A former Miss Cherokee, Adair was recognized for her contributions to Cherokee culture.
“I learned after Miss Cherokee was over that people were willing and wanting to hear culture, just going around and sharing a little about myself and the way I was raised,” she said. “I didn’t have to read it in a book. This is who I am. So when I go around and share these things, it’s me.”
Adair works for Cherokee Nation Businesses as a story teller sharing the Cherokee culture and history.
Williams took home the community award. She is the outreach coordinator of the Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Native American Program in Omaha.
“I always wanted to give something back to our tribe and to all Native people if I could,” she said.
Williams raises awareness and promotes prevention of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and stalking against Native Americans.
“I didn’t want other people to have to go through what I went through,” she said. “I wanted to try to help other survivors of relationship abuse and sexual assault find their resources and not feel as lost and confused and feeling like they have nowhere to turn.”
Tyler was the service award recipient for his efforts to provide food for those less fortunate.
“I think if the community has a need, we’re supposed to meet it,” Tyler said. “This is hard because I didn’t do this for awards. I did it to honor our father in heaven. Without God, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”
Tyler owns Native Oklahoma Aquaponic Harvest, an aquaponic greenhouse in Vian that grows chemical-free produce, and donates produce to his nonprofit food pantry, the Vian Peace Center, and the Northeastern Oklahoma Food Bank.
Self took home the education award for his efforts as prevention specialist with Chain Breakers Coalition of Adair County to teach youth about the dangers of alcohol, drug and opioid abuse.
“What I do, it’s my job, but I don’t look at it as a job,” he said. “I look at it as I get to help this kid. I grew up in Adair County, and I get to listen to these kids talk about their struggles, and I can say ‘I know. I lived there and I know what you’re going through. I understand not having a parent. I understand one of your relatives on drugs.’”
Self also works with law enforcement, including the CN marshals, government agencies and businesses to implement community prevention strategies.
Pinkerton, a former Junior Miss Cherokee, received the health award for promoting mental health awareness in Indian Country.
“This is crazy to me because when I first started out advocating for mental health, I didn’t expect any awards,” the Claremore High School junior said. “I just thought I was a small-town girl trying to make something good out of nothing.”
The youngest award recipient, Pinkerton has spoken at national medical conferences about erasing the mental health stigma in Native Americans and plans to attend medical school to study psychology.
Irwin, who owns Gambinos Pizza in Gore, was honored in the business category for her role assisting her community.
“I’ve been very, very blessed in Gore with my restaurant, and it’s allowed me to reach out and help other people,” she said. “I mainly do it because it’s fun and it makes me feel good. That’s really all it’s about for me.”
Irwin donates profits from her business to aid local causes and residents in need. She also helped establish the annual Easter egg hunt put on by the town of Gore.
This spring, Irwin and others rallied to assist victims of historic flooding in Webbers Falls and surrounding communities.
The Seven Feathers Awards Gala was held at the Cherokee Casino Tahlequah Chota Center. Each recipient received a stained-glass feather by Cherokee artist Brandi Hines of Agitsi Stained Glass.
All proceeds from the event will benefit the Cherokee Phoenix’s Elder/Veteran Subscription Fund, which provides free annual subscriptions to CN citizens who are 65 or older, as well as veterans and active military personnel.
The nomination period for the 2020 Seven Feathers event will begin in April.