AARP honors Oklahoma Indian Elders at annual event

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Native veterans, language preservationists, artists, a renowned female ceremonial dancer, a former Chief of the Choctaw Nation, as well as three individuals with ties to the local area, were among those recognized at the 6th Annual AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors recently held in Oklahoma City.

More than 700 family members, tribal leaders and honored guests from across the state attended the event which recognized elders from 30 Oklahoma tribes and nations. The AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors is the largest event of its kind bringing together all Oklahoma tribes and nations to recognize the contribution of elders to their tribes, communities, family and state, said AARP Oklahoma State President Marjorie Lyons.

Former Choctaw Chief Gregory E. Pyle was named the inaugural recipient of the Dr. John Edwards Memorial Leadership Award in recognition of more than 30 years of service to his people. The award is named after long-time AARP Oklahoma Executive Council Member John Edwards who passed away earlier this year. Edwards, a former Governor of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, was instrumental in AARP’s work with Native Americans in Oklahoma.

“Chief Pyle is a visionary leader whose service to all Native Americans will continue to be felt for generations to come,” Lyons said. “We are so happy to present him this award that bears the name of our beloved friend John Edwards who himself was such a great example of selfless service to all people.”

This year’s class of Indian Elder Honorees marks 300 elders representing all 39-federally recognized tribes and nations in Oklahoma who have received the recognition since AARP began the program in 2009.

“Since its inception, we have been so blessed to recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of elders from all walks of life,” said Lyons. “Some have led high profile lives and others have quietly passed on their gentle wisdom and culture. Collectively, this year’s AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honorees represent what is best about Native American people in Oklahoma: love of family, dedication to culture and respect for all people.”

2014 AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honorees with local ties include:

Jack Shoemate – Comanche

A Korean War Veteran who served with the US Army, he was employed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for 27 years where he worked with 12 different tribes as Industrial Development Specialist and Chief of Credit. He spent 11 years as Superintendent of the Osage Tribe. After his retirement, he became Director of the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce and City Councilman. As Mayor of Pawhuska, Jack led a delegation to sign a Sister-City Compact with Montauban France. At age 81, he currently serves as President of the Board of Directors of the Osage County Historical Society and community volunteer. He is a member of the Indian Dutch Reform Mission Church in Lawton and attends Pawhuska First United Methodist Church.

Anita Fields - Osage

Fields is a renowned clay sculpture artist whose work has been included in exhibits throughout the United States, at the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution and in many prestigious public and private collections. Anita was artist in residence at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis and one of 47 Native American delegates participating in a cultural exchange in South Africa. She says with each handful of moist earth she is given the opportunity express herself in a manner that reflects what has been left for her — a way to look at the world and a way to think as an Osage woman.

George A. Shannon – Osage

Given the Osage name Wah Kon Sea, meaning “When the deer herd looks up,” Shannon has led native programs that have helped to lay the foundation for a better and stronger tomorrow as a consultant to tribal nations including the Choctaw, Cherokee, Osage and Peoria tribes, as well as work nationally with the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. He has volunteered for the Sequoia Club (OU Indian student organization), the Board of Indian Health Care Resource Center of Tulsa, Inc., the American Indian Alumni Society of the University of Oklahoma and the American Indian Chamber of Commerce. He is the son of the first full-blood Osage woman to graduate high school and has taught Native Americans to lead with compassion, to respect and embrace cultural identity and to never lose sight of history.