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Loretta Barrett Oden & Mary Ann Powell Recognized at 5th Annual AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors

Two Citizen Potawatomi Nation Tribal Members have been honored by AARP for their work in Native communities. Loretta Barratt Oden and Mary Ann Powell were recognized as AARP Oklahoma Indian Elders.

AARP Oklahoma State President Marjorie Lyons said this event, which has grown into the largest celebration of older Native Americans in the state, 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 tonight’s honorees, the common bond they share – respect, dignity and service to their fellow man,” she said. “Tonight, 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.”

In the past five years, AARP has honored 250 Indian Elders from all 39-federally recognized tribes and nations headquartered in Oklahoma, she said. 

AARP State Director Sean Voskuhl, who emceed the event, says the Indian Elder Honors is the cornerstone of the association’s on-going work with Native Americans in the state. Among other projects he highlighted include: a comprehensive survey of the needs and wants of Native Americans in Oklahoma, healthy cooking seminars, food security programs and health care law education for Native Americans.

“AARP’s vision of a society in which all people live with dignity and purpose is also the Indian way,” he said. “We are excited about how we can continue working to make that vision a reality in Oklahoma Indian Country as we continue to build relationships.”

Michael E. Bird, a member of the AARP National Policy Council, delivered the keynote address. Bird, a Santo Domingo-San Juan Pueblo Indian from New Mexico, was the first American Indian to serve as President of the American Public Health Association.

“These elders will leave an indelible impact on their tribes, their families and their communities for many years to come,” he said. “They have our respect and our gratitude for the ways they have helped keep and pass on our tribal traditions and way of life.”

Loretta Barrett Oden is a nationally-known chef who has adapted recipes to preserve the culinary legacy of her upbringing. She began her passionate relationship with food as a small child at the side of her mother, grandmothers and aunts and partnered with her son, the late chef Clayton Oden, to open the Corn Dance Café – the first restaurant to showcase food indigenous to the Americas. Loretta has been featured nationally on programs including Good Morning America, The Today Show and in The New York Times and National Geographic Traveler. She served as a guest chef in the Robert Mondavi Great Chefs Series and the 2006 Taste Celebration in Napa and on Barbara Pool Fenzl’s PBS series, Savor the Southwest. Loretta was the host of an Emmy Award winning 5-part PBS series, Seasoned with Spirit, a culinary celebration of America’s bounty combining Native American history and culture with delicious, healthy recipes inspired by indigenous foods.

“I passionately love the work I do and the people I work with all over the country,” said Oden. “It’s so rewarding. It’s the gas in my tank. When I see the reaction to the food and to whom we are as Native people; it’s a great way to enlighten people about how we’re all different as Native people and the food is also very diverse. So to use food as a tool to show our culture and teach people healthy options is fun and exciting.”

Mary Ann Powell has spent much of her life helping Indian people with health and nutrition. In the early 1970s she started the Community Health Representative program for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She worked for Texas A&M in their nutrition program where she did home visits and trained volunteers to teach low-income families how to cook using commodity food. She returned to the Potawatomi Nation as Director of the CHR program and spent time working at Carl Albert Indian Hospital in the Women’s Clinic. Today, she welcomes guests from all over the country at the Citizen Potawatomi Heritage Center.

“I was honored to be recognized by the AARP,” said Mary Powell. “Going back to my time as the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s first community health representative, to seeing the services offered today, I’m really happy to still be a part of the tribe today as part of our Cultural Heritage Center staff.”

AARP Executive Council member Dr. John Edwards, former Governor of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, was among those who spoke about AARP Oklahoma’s  Inter-Tribal Community Group. The community group, which is open to all 50+ Native Americans in Oklahoma, is working on cultural, health and transportation issues that affect Indian Country. To find more information or join this group, e-mail ok@aarp.org or call 1-866-295-7277.