AARP Oklahoma honors 7 Cherokee elders

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
10/03/2019 11:30 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation citizen Sharon Dawes, center, is recognized Oct. 1 at the 11th annual AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors event held in Oklahoma City. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation citizens Charlie Soap, left, and Curtis Snell attend an AARP Oklahoma event at which they were honored, along with 50 other Native elders, on Oct. 1 in Oklahoma City. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Ernestine Berry, an elder with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, gives an interview Oct. 1 before she and others are honored by AARP Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation citizen Calvin Rock, right, speaks with fellow honorees at the AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors event Oct. 1 in Oklahoma City. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee actor Wes Studi, shown in this 2014 photo, received the Dr. John Edwards Memorial Leadership Award on Oct. 1 at the AARP Oklahoma’s 11th annual AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors ceremony in Oklahoma City. Studi did not attend but sent a video message. ARCHIVE
OKLAHOMA CITY – Seven Cherokee elders were honored on Oct. 1 by the AARP Oklahoma at a ceremony in the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

The seven elders were among 52 elders from Oklahoma tribes who were honored at the 11th annual AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors ceremony for their works in their communities and careers.

The evening’s main award, the Dr. John Edwards Memorial Leadership Award, went to Cherokee actor Wes Studi, who could attend the ceremony but sent a video message. Edwards (Absentee Shawnee) was a member of the AARP Oklahoma Executive Council.

Studi, who has appeared in major films such as “Dances with Wolves,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Geronimo: An American Legend,” “Heat” and “Hostiles,” was born in 1947 in Nofire Hollow in Cherokee County and is an Army veteran who served in Vietnam. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“It’s quite the honor, and I have to say it really came as quite a surprise to me,” Studi said about receiving the award. “Actually, it kind of came quite a surprise to become or to be called an elder. I understand that, yes, I have reached that age.”

He added that he’s unsure that he can live up to the standards set by the late Edwards in his tenure with AARP Oklahoma.

“I can tell you I have strived in my life to continue to reach goal after goal, and hopefully those goals turn into successes. I will tell you successes are a fleeting thing, and it’s good to enjoy them when you can, and I, in turn, think of this award, this honor you have bestowed upon me this evening, as a success. I thank you, AARP Oklahoma, and the Indian elders that I join the company of.”

Other Cherokees honored were United Keetoowah Band citizen Ernestine Berry and Cherokee Nation citizens Sharon Dawes, Calvin Rock, Curtis Snell, Charlie Soap and Ida Sue Stopp.

Ernestine Berry
Berry is the executive director of the UKB John Hair Cultural Center and Museum in Tahlequah. She recognized gaps in Keetoowah history and culture and worked to fill those gaps, which resulted in the “Missing Pieces: Rediscovering Keetoowah Law, Language, Literature” exhibit at the museum.

“I think it is an honor for your tribe to nominate you and recognize the work that you do. I’ve been at the museum for eight years now, but all together I’ve worked for the tribe for about 20 years,” she said. “The tribe is my passion to be honest, it really is, and I never really realized it when I was younger. My grandfather, my grandmother, my mother – they were all really gung ho, and I guess that rubbed off on me. It’s been hard, but it’s been very gratifying to work with my people, and I just love it.”

Calvin Rock
After retiring from the Georgia Pacific Paper Company in Muskogee, Rock and his wife lived on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico for four years.

“I’ve always wanted to help people in whatever way I can. I go around helping people register to vote, I help widows. I’ve even got out and bought groceries and helped people that way,” he said. “When I was out on the Navajo reservation I would see a lot of elderly walking to town, and I would give them rides to town from Shiprock to Farmington.”

He added that he also drove an activity bus for a high school wrestling team on the Navajo reservation. “They got to where they called me ‘uncle,’ and among the Navajo that’s a pretty high honor.”

He said he was “humbled” to receive the AARP honor. “I’ve always been willing to help people and was raised that way. My parents always believed in helping people, and that’s what I’ve always done. I’ve been blessed by always having a good job so that I could help people.”

Charlie Soap
Soap has dedicated much of his life helping strengthen Cherokee communities. He served as director of the CN Community Development Department for seven years, and in 2002, he oversaw the construction of eight community buildings and critical community initiatives for the CN. He also served as the founding director of the Boys and Girls Club of Tahlequah, and has served as the Oklahoma area director of the Christian Children’s Fund.

“I think it’s quite an honor. I didn’t know I was being nominated,” he said. “When I work out in the communities I see a lot of elders still involved in their communities. I think they have a lot to offer just like the young people have a lot to offer, and I always say from the elders’ standpoint that we need to teach our young people, and we need to call on the young people to help us to do some of the work that we do. I want to congratulate all of the elders and their families who are getting an award tonight, and I think it’s quite an honor.”

Curtis Snell
Snell is lifelong resident of the Kansas, Kenwood and Leach areas in Delaware County. He served on the Tribal Council from 2007-17 representing Dist. 9, which includes portions of Delaware and Mayes counties. He said he was nominated by former Principal Chief Bill John Baker for his community service work.

Ida Sue Stopp
Stopp’s life has revolved around service to others, according to her AARP biography. She has earned two associate degrees and a bachelor’s degree in social work. She also earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of Oklahoma. She has served as a social worker in the state of Washington, as a public health educator and a CN community health representative serving Cherokee people in rural areas. These roles for her tribe impacted the rate of heart disease and diabetes where she worked, her AARP bio states.

She has also managed a women’s shelter in Salina and served as a substitute teacher in Adair County.

Sharon Dawes
For more than 30 years, Dawes has served as director of the Miami Indian Health Center in Ottawa County. She also has made time to share her knowledge of the Cherokee language at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Miami. She helps organize the Ottawa Powwow and has served as the Ottawa tribal representative on the Northeastern Tribal Health Board.
About the Author
Will Chavez is a Cherokee/San Felipe Pueblo Indian who has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 25 years. During that time he has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a writer, reporter and photographer for the Cherokee Advocate and Cherokee Phoenix newspapers. 

For many years h ...
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will Chavez is a Cherokee/San Felipe Pueblo Indian who has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 25 years. During that time he has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a writer, reporter and photographer for the Cherokee Advocate and Cherokee Phoenix newspapers. For many years h ...

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