AARP Oklahoma honors 6 Cherokee elders
OKLAHOMA CITY – Four Cherokee Nation and two United Keetoowah Band citizens were six of the 50 Indian elders from 28 Oklahoma tribes who the AARP Oklahoma honored during its 10th annual Indian Elder Honors celebration on Oct. 2 at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
CN citizens Gary Farris, James Hail, Bud Squirrel and Ronda Williams, along with UKB citizens Albert Shade and Sammy Still, received medallions for their respective contributions.
“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 State Director Sean Voskuhl said.Gary Farris
According to his AARP bio, Farris has committed himself to Native issues, including health care and the arts. An Army veteran and graduate of Northeastern State University, he also holds advanced degrees from the universities of Oklahoma, North Carolina and North Dakota. His career has spanned teaching American Indian history, serving as academic advisor and helping American Indian and Alaska Native students get accepted into medicine programs. He also served as deputy director of the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission where he oversaw an array of tribal issues and coordinated with the state’s 38 federally recognized sovereign governments. He has also served on the CN leadership team under Principal Chief Ross Swimmer and was the administrator in the tribe’s health department. For the past 15 years, he’s managed the office of the Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Oklahoma.
Farris is the co-owner of the Standing Buffalo Art Gallery in Norman. As a supporter of artisans, he advocated for strengthening the Oklahoma Indian Arts and Crafts Act. He is also an award-winning woodworker who creates ceremonial cedar boxes and has exhibited at the Jacobson House, Red Earth Festival and the Chickasaw Nation Artesian Art Festival. As a master carpenter, Farris has shared his talents volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.James Hail
Hail’s bio states that he’s a committed father of three whose dedication to fostering a sense of accountability and life of service has positively impacted his community and tribe. Hail spent his youth in Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma. He graduated from Central High School in Sequoyah County and attended college at NSU where he studied for a teaching degree. Upon graduation, he began teaching at an Arkansas elementary school. He was drafted by the Army in 1969 and served with distinction in Vietnam with the 199th Infantry Brigade and 1st Cavalry Division.
He was honorably discharged in 1971. During his service, Hail was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal and a Bronze Star. Upon returning to civilian life, he served as an elementary principal and teacher for more than 40 years. Hail’s commitment to education is evident by the pupils who still recognize him and credit him with their successes.
He is a member of Eastside Baptist Church in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he serves on several committees, is a driver for youth trips and a volunteer for charitable projects. Bud Squirrel
According to his bio, Squirrel’s a CN employee of 37 years. A graduate of NSU with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Squirrel began working at the CN in 1976 as a reporter-in-training at the Cherokee Advocate.
Later that year, he was promoted to director of the Tribal Work Experience Program. Three years later, he was recruited to supervise the CN Health Department staff in Mayes and Delaware counties and then promoted to director of Community Health Services. As director, he negotiated a contract with the Indian Health Service for the CN to administer the community health nursing, mental health and medical social services federal programs. In 1985, Squirrel was selected as deputy director of Health Services and developed a 25-year plan for tribal health care that assisted in the opening of four clinics. After recognizing that more clinics were coming, Squirrel attended construction and design seminars to bolster his ability to aid in expansion. The work led to a promotion as director of construction for CN, where he completed 10 major projects. After his contributions to construction projects, Squirrel was appointed to manager of the Food Distribution Program. Over eight years, he advocated for increased federal funding for the United States Department of Agriculture Food Distribution Program on Indian reservations and succeeded in increasing the program’s budget. He also spent years serving on local and national committees, including serving as chairman of the Oklahoma Area Inter-Tribal Health Board.Ronda Williams
Williams’s AARP bio states that she demonstrates her love and respect for tribal elders and honors her culture by teaching others. She served as the Native American diversity team lead at ConocoPhillips for nine years. In this role, she assisted in the recruitment of Native American employees. She also designed a recruiting brochure and went on college tours to help recruit students for interns and full-time jobs. As a part of this effort, Williams educated students on the culture of Oklahoma Native American history and ConocoPhillips.
Williams also hosted cultural events for hundreds of children and taught them how to make corn silk dolls, clay pots and basket weaving. She was also active in the work of the Native American Network, which insured that community children had Christmas gifts. She also volunteered for holiday giving outreach by delivering elders food for the holidays.
Following her retirement in 2015, Williams began work at the Delaware Tribe as the Title VI director where she ensures elders have daily meals and socialization. Each day, she visits and serves approximately 90 elders to address their transportation and medical needs. She also assists elder caregivers and secures respite workers to serve the elders, while giving the caregivers breaks. Williams spends hours weekly with the elders when they are sick or need assistance with getting their medication, as well as providing them socialization opportunities. She has also served as the Delaware Powwow concession lead and helped with program design and ads for more than 17 years.Albert Shade
According to his bio, Shade’s commitment to the cultural preservation and education of the UKB is known throughout the tribe. Shade holds the designation as a Tradition Keeper by the UKB. As so, he demonstrates his bow making and native materials used to make the bow. This distinction lauds his commitment to education and cultural preservation of bow making utilizing native materials in the traditional manner, while preserving the UKB heritage.Sammy Still
Still’s bio states that he’s a full-blood UKB citizen who embodies the Cherokee tradition through his teachings and his life work. He serves as a knowledge keeper of the Cherokee traditions, culture and history. As a cultural presenter and storyteller, he’s traveled nationwide to schools, universities and organizations to share the teachings of Cherokee history in culture, language and tradition. Still is also a founding member of the Turtle Island Liars Club, which shares old traditional Cherokee stories.
He’s a traditional craftsman in blowguns, Indian bow and stickball making and basket weaving and is the only known Keetoowah traditional stone marble makers.
Still is a graduate of Bacone College with an associate degree in arts and NSU with a bachelor’s degree in science. He is a past member of the Native American Journalism Association and the National Congress of American Indians.
The AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors has recognized 500 elders from all 39 federally recognized tribes and nations in Oklahoma since its inception in 2009.