Community , Culture

Four Osages honored at 9th Annual AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors

Osage elders Jerri Jean Branstetter, Tim Tall Chief, Rosemary Wood and the late Charles Red Corn were honored at this year’s 9th Annual AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors.

Fifty elders from 33 tribes were honored at this year’s ceremony, which included a buffet meal and medallion presentation for each elder at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City on Oct. 3. There were more than 300 attendees. It is the largest recognition program of its kind that honors Indian Elders for their contributions to their tribes, communities, state and nation. Since its inception in 2009, AARP Oklahoma has honored more than 450 elders from all 39 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma.

“It is an honor to be among such uplifting traditional and inspirational people,” said AARP National President Eric Schneidewind. “Meeting in harmony and all joined in paying tribute to honor the most experienced and wise individuals among us.”

Among the honorees were tribal and cultural leaders, those who shaped their tribal governments and those who carry on traditions and Indigenous languages. Dr. Henrietta Mann, this year’s recipient of the Dr. John Edwards Memorial Leadership Award, called Indian Elders “Respective Knowledge Keepers.”

Love of family, dedication to culture and a love of their people, are all characteristics each honoree exudes, said AARP Oklahoma State Director Sean Voskuhl.  

The following are excerpts from the Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors biographies for each honoree:

Jerri Jean Branstetter served on the First Osage Nation Congress from 2006-2012. During her tenure, she was the second woman to serve as Speaker of the Congress where she worked to advance Osage sovereignty. Branstetter believes in a tribe’s ability to self-determine and has been an exemplary role model for Native youth and Native women. Branstetter also served on the Osage Government Reform Commission that helped to draft the Osage Nation’s 2006 Constitution, which successfully reformed the Osage tribal government. Branstetter currently serves as the chairwoman for the Osage News Editorial Board, where she provides valuable insight on navigating the political climate of the Osage. She served as a tribal leader during her son’s tenure as a Drumkeeper for the Osage Hominy District In-Lon-Schka Dances, one of the highest cultural positions within the Osage Nation. During this period, she ensured his camp ran smoothly and that the drum was protected. She also ensured only the finest Osage meals were prepared for up to 400 people, which requires vast knowledge of Osage culture.

Tim Tallchief has dedicated his life and career to the health and wellness of his tribe and the people of Oklahoma. He served as the Oklahoma State Department of Education State Director of Indian Education, and as Deputy Commissioner of Health and Administration for the Oklahoma State Department of Health until his retirement. Tallchief later came out of retirement to serve as Health Director for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Health Services and an adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma. He was appointed to the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission, where he served eight years as chairman of the board. He has served on boards and committees including the National Indian Health Board, Southern Plains Tribal Health Board, Oklahoma History Center Native Gallery Advisory Board, Chickasaw Nation Health Services Governing Board, and the Governor’s Oklahoma Health Improvement Plan. He currently serves as board chairman of the Osage Nation Tallgrass Economic Development. He has received numerous awards including the “Four Directions of Native Oklahoma” state service award for outstanding contributions in education, health and native culture, and selected by the University of Central Oklahoma as the Distinguished Alumni of the Year. He was also chosen as the 2017 Oklahoma Native American Man of the Year. Tallchief serves with the Oklahoma State Athletic Commission, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Boxing Commission and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Boxing Commission as a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) and professional boxing judge and inspector. He also serves as Master of Ceremonies for Native American cultural events and powwows throughout the United States.

Rosemary Wood’s contribution to the Osage Nation is widely felt from her tribal leadership, as well as her commitment to health and wellness. Wood graduated from St. John Hospital School of Nursing in 1963, the University of Oklahoma in 1965, and from Rutgers University in 1971 with a Master of Science in Psychiatric Nursing. She and her co-partner founded the American Indian Alaska Native Nurse’s Association (AINNA). Wood was the first American Indian to hold the position of Chief of the Nursing Branch for the Indian Health Service. She later became special assistant to the Indian Health Service director. She also served as nursing educator for the University of Oklahoma College of Nursing and worked as a staff psychiatric nurse specialist at Norman’s Central State Hospital. As a part of her commitment to health and wellness, Wood led efforts to establish a fitness center for the Osage Nation. Wood served on the 29th and 30th Osage Tribal Councils from 1994-2002. She is the first woman in Osage history to run for the office of Principal Chief. Wood lives on originally allotted Osage tribal land and raises white face Hereford cattle with her nephew.

AARP posthumously awarded Charles Red Corn with an Elder Honor this year. Red Corn passed away peacefully at his home on July 23. Red Corn was a prolific and celebrated writer in representing the Osage Nation who holds a Master of Education from Penn State University and Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts. His widely-acclaimed novel, “A Pipe for February,” is a true tale of the Osage culture in the 1920s that is used in Native American Studies in universities across the United States. He received a national award for his short story “The Dam,” from Stanford University. Red Corn was chosen as the First Dartmouth Tribal Scholar and spent his time there writing and lecturing. He was also selected as Indian Elder in Residence for both the University of Illinois and the University of North Carolina. Red Corn also received a fellowship at the prestigious Newberry Library in Chicago and received an award from Harvard University Center for Native American Politics for his leadership and contributions in writing the Osage Nation Constitution. During his tenure with the State Indian Affairs Commission during the 1960s and 70s, Red Corn organized many of the first Indian Parent Education Committees for schools across Oklahoma. These committees gave parents the power to effectively participate in dispensing monies set aside for their children and to make policy changes to better serve the community. Red Corn’s name is Wah-ni-un-tah, of the Tzi-Zhu Wash ta ghi, Gentle Sky Clan, where he is a name giver for his clan. A lifelong participant in the In-Lon-Schka dances, Red Corn has served as a Whipman and treasurer.

For more information about the AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors, please contact Mashell Sourjohn at (405) 715-4474 or msourjohn@aarp.org.