Cherokees among new NSU Centurions
Cherokee Nation Veterans Affairs Secretary S. Joe Crittenden, left, an alumnus of Northeastern State University, is honored March 6 as a Centurion by the university and its president, Steve Turner. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Northeastern State University alumnus and Cherokee Nation citizen Charles Gourd attends an honoree luncheon on March 6 to celebrate 10 new NSU Centurions. Gourd earned his bachelor’s degree in 1971 from NSU. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – Northeastern State University alumni long associated with the Cherokee Nation were among the latest crop of “Centurions” honored for their impact in the community.
NSU’s 10 additions this year included Charles Gourd, former Cherokee Heritage Center executive director, and S. Joe Crittenden, a former deputy chief who is the tribe’s first and current secretary of Veterans Affairs.
“A Centurion can be living or deceased, and be someone who has embodied the legacy and spirit of Northeastern State University,” NSU President Steve Turner said during an honoree luncheon March 6. “That NSU Centurion is an individual whose leadership and commitment in the course of helping others has made a significant impact during the university’s history.”
A 1974 NSU alumnus, Crittenden served in the U.S. Navy from 1964-67 during the Vietnam War. He was described as “a steadfast advocate for the Cherokee veterans.”
“A U.S. Navy veteran, S. Joe Crittenden recently completed his second term as deputy principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, where he supported the Cherokee Nation’s effort to restore Seminary Hall and ensure scholarship funding for NSU students,” NSU Vice President of University Relations Dan Mabery said.
First elected to the Tribal Council in 2003, Crittenden became the deputy chief in 2011. He was briefly thrust into the role of principal chief following a disputed chief’s race, making him the only CN citizen to serve as councilor, deputy chief and principal chief.
Crittenden now serves as the CN’s first secretary of Veterans Affairs, a Cabinet-level position.
Gourd, who recently accepted a position in the CN’s Education Services, was the executive director of the CHC since 2017. He was described as a “tireless champion” who helped establish a center for tribal studies at NSU.
Born and raised in Tahlequah, Gourd earned a bachelor’s degree in history at NSU in 1971 and a master’s degree in public school administration in 1992. He also earned a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Kansas in 1984.
As the CHC director, Gourd, who has a background in nonprofit fundraising and Native American affairs, was responsible for overseeing the center’s operation, as well as preserving the tribe’s collection of documents, artifacts, photos and books. He had previously retired from the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission, on which he served as the director.
The Centurion honor was established during NSU’s 2009 Centennial Founders Day Celebration. At the time, 100 alumni, faculty, staff and students were selected. Up to 10 new Centurions are named each year.
NSU’s annual Founders Day “commemorates the day the Oklahoma legislature purchased the Cherokee National Female Seminary and created Northeastern State Normal School,” Turner said. “The historic event took place 111 years ago today, March 6, 1909. So here we are, 111 years later. May 7 will be the 169th anniversary of the opening of the Cherokee Female Seminary. So our histories are forever intertwined.”