Three Cherokee citizens were among 50 Native Americans statewide recognized October 1 at this year’s American Association of Retired Persons Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors banquet in Oklahoma City.
Former Principal Chief Ross Swimmer, of Tulsa; Tribal Councilor Jack Baker, of Oklahoma City; and author and genealogist Betty Starr Barker, of Stilwell, received a medallion from national and state AARP leaders as elder honorees.
The award is given each year to outstanding Native American elders who make a powerful difference in their communities and Indian Country and are consistent with AARP’s mission and vision to inspire others to service.
“Honoring our elders is an important aspect of Cherokee culture, and we are proud of these three distinguished leaders. Each one of them has achieved extraordinary accomplishments and left an undeniable mark on their families, their communities and our tribe,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker of the award. “This trio has proven time and time again their value to our people. They should be commended for their commitment to teaching our values, growing our sovereign government and preserving our traditional Cherokee culture.”
Betty Starr Barker was born on her father’s Cherokee allotment in Adair County and has served the Cherokee tribe and community in multiple ways. She taught for four decades in an elementary classroom and has been an active member in community organizations such as Adair County Retired Educators, Stilwell Area Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis Club. Barker has also been a member of the Alpha Delta Kappa teacher’s sorority for 50 years.
“The AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder award is a distinguished honor, and I’m proud to join such a prestigious group,” Barker said. “I don’t accept this honor just for myself, but for my tribe. I am also proud to be joined by Tribal Councilor Jack Baker and former Principal Chief Ross Swimmer in receiving this award.”
Barker serves on the Cherokee Nation Registration Committee and in 2012 was honored by Chief Baker as an Elder Statesman of the Cherokee Nation. She is a member of the National Trail of Tears Society, Goingsnake Historical Society and Adair County Historical Society. Barker is also a descendant of Nancy Ward and an active member of the Nancy Ward Society.
Tribal Councilor Jack Baker has served the Cherokee people in culture, history and government since the 1970s. He has served on the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council as an at-large representative since 2006. Baker is the president of the National Trail of Tears Association and has served as treasurer of the Cherokee Heritage Center, board member of the Oklahoma Historical Society and president of the Goingsnake District Heritage Association. He started a program of marking the graves of those who had come on the Trail of Tears and held ceremonies at the gravesite with as many family members as possible attending. There have been about 130 of those markings. Baker has also been instrumental in obtaining the translation of the Moravian historical documents concerning Cherokees.
Ross Swimmer served as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1975-85 and as a Special Trustee for American Indians at the U.S. Department of Interior. He was instrumental in establishing a Cherokee Nation WIC project in Tulsa, which formed the foundation for Tulsa Urban Indian Clinic. Under his leadership, self-governance was returned to the Cherokee Nation. Swimmer received the honor from AARP for his foresight, leadership and legacy while serving the Cherokee Nation, as well as all of Indian Country.
The 50 individuals honored represented 26 Native American tribes within Oklahoma. In the past five years, AARP has honored 250 Indian elders representing all 39 federally recognized tribes and nations in Oklahoma.
AARP Oklahoma President Marjorie Lyons said the event is a tribute to the venerated position of honor and respect tribal nations give to their elders.
“Though they come from different backgrounds and cultures, we see in these honorees, the common bond they share—respect, dignity and service to their fellow man,” Lyons said. “We add these names to the distinguished list of past honorees. We say ‘thank you’ and we give thanks for the ways they have touched so many lives in their families, communities and in our state.”