Cherokee elders honored by AARP

October 3, 2018

: (L to R) 2018 Indian Elder Honor recipients James Hail, Gary Farris, Ronda Williams and Bud Squirrel.: (L to R) 2018 Indian Elder Honor recipients James Hail, Gary Farris, Ronda Williams and Bud Squirrel.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Four Cherokee Nation citizens were honored at the AARP 10th Annual Indian Elder Honors banquet Tuesday at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

Bud Squirrel, of Park Hill; Gary Farris, of Norman; Ronda Williams, of Copan; and James Hail, of Fort Smith, were named among 50 recipients this year, recognizing the positive impact they have made on their communities, families and tribal nations.

“Having four of our Cherokee elders named among the AARP’s Indian Elders in Oklahoma is a great honor,” Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden said. “We enjoy every opportunity to celebrate our elders and their achievements, and on behalf of myself, Chief Baker and all of us here at Cherokee Nation, we want to congratulate these individuals. We certainly appreciate their example, leadership and continued dedication to the Cherokee Nation.”

Squirrel is a graduate of Northeastern State University and was a dedicated employee of the Cherokee Nation for more than 30 years. He started his career with the tribe as a reporter for the Cherokee Advocate newspaper and went on to achieve several promotions. After serving as a supervisor in Cherokee Nation Health Services, he was promoted to director of Community Health Services, where he negotiated a contract with the Indian Health Service to administer community health nursing, mental health and medical social services programs within the tribe. He was later promoted to deputy director of Health Services, where his work on a 25-year plan assisted in the opening of four new tribal health centers. Throughout his career, Squirrel held various other titles, including director of the Tribal Work Experience Program, construction manager for Cherokee Nation and director of the tribe’s food distribution program. He also participated in numerous local and national committees.

Farris, a U.S. Army veteran, is a graduate of Northeastern State University and pursued advanced degrees from the University of Oklahoma, the University of North Carolina and the University of North Dakota. He has committed his life to a variety of Native issues. During his career, Farris served under former Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Ross Swimmer as director of Cherokee Nation Health Services. He also served as deputy director of the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission, where he oversaw a wide variety of tribal issues. Farris dedicated many years of his life to education, including teaching and advising Native students at Northern Oklahoma College. He later helmed the Indians Into Medicine (INMED) program at the University of North Dakota for seven years. For the past 18 years, he has been the Administrative Officer for the office of the Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Oklahoma.

Williams served for nine years on the Native American Diversity team at ConocoPhillips, where she assisted in the recruitment of Native American employees, attended recruiting fairs and used her role to share her Native American culture and heritage. Throughout her lifetime, Williams has shared her culture with hundreds of students by demonstrating the art of corn husk dolls, clay pots and basket weaving. Williams has always been active in volunteer and community work, including the Native American Network and holiday giving outreach programs. After retiring in 2015, she began working for the Delaware tribe as Title IV director, where she helps tribal elders.

Hail, a U.S. Army veteran, is a graduate of Northeastern State University, where he received a teaching degree before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1969 during the Vietnam era. During his service, Hail received numerous awards, including the Vietnam Service Medal, Campaign Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal and a Bronze Star. After being honorably discharged in 1971, Hail returned to his teaching career and served as an elementary principal and teacher for more than 40 years. Hail has dedicated several years of his life to volunteer work, service to his community and to his church.

According to a press release, this year’s list of honorees includes an accomplished playwright and poet, veterans, educators, and cultural specialists in metalsmithing, stone carving and other traditional arts.

“This event celebrates a lifetime of service from these distinguished elders who have positively impacted their community, family, tribe and nation,” AARP State Director Sean Voskuhl said. “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.”

Since AARP adopted the award in 2009, more than 450 Native American elders have been recognized from all 39 tribal nations in Oklahoma.