Chickasaw Nation Arts & Culture Awards recognize contributors to culture

Release Date: 10.21.2019
By: Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

  • Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, left, and Lt. Governor Chris Anoatubby, right, present Noah Kauffman with an award for the 2019 Southeastern Art Show and Market youth category “Best of Show.”

  • F. Gene Smith’s metalwork art earned the 2019 Southeastern Art Show and Market “Best of Show.” Smith, center, was awarded the honor by Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, left, and Lt. Governor Chris Anoatubby.

  • James Wenonah Gunning was honored with a Chickasaw Historical Society Service award and her son Robin Gunning, center, accepted on her behalf. Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, left, and Lt. Governor Chris Anoatubby presented the award.

  • Michael Cornelius, center, was honored with a Chickasaw Historical Society Service award. Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, left, and Lt. Governor Chris Anoatubby presented the award.

  • Harold Stick, center, was honored with the prestigious Silver Feather Award. Stick was presented with the award by Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, left, and Lt. Governor Chris Anoatubby.

  • Merry Monroe, center, receives the 2019 Dynamic Woman of the Year award from Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, left, and Lt. Governor Chris Anoatubby.

SULPHUR, Okla. – Educators, artists, linguists, public servants and cultural advocates were among those honored during the Chickasaw Nation Arts & Culture Awards ceremony Oct. 3, at the Chickasaw Cultural Center.

“Tonight we recognize the talents and accomplishments of our Chickasaw, Southeastern and Woodland tribal artists, authors and culture bearers,” said Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby. “In addition, we honor and celebrate the distinguished recipients of this year’s Dynamic Woman of the Year and the Silver Feather awards.”

Dynamic Woman of the Year - Merry Monroe

Merry Monroe was named the 2019 Dynamic Chickasaw Woman of the Year by Governor Anoatubby.

Monroe dedicated nearly 50 years of her life to serving Native American students. More recently, she began learning and sharing the Chickasaw language.

“Chickasaw women have played many important roles throughout history,” Governor Anoatubby said. “They have a longstanding reputation as vibrant, fearless, motivated, hardworking and remarkable. We often use the word dynamic, which encapsulates all those and many other characteristics of Chickasaw women. Tonight we recognize Merry Monroe for her leadership and commitment to her culture and her people.”

“She spent nearly five decades serving Chickasaws and other Native American students,” Governor Anoatubby said.

After graduating from high school, Monroe worked at Byng Public Schools in the Indian Education program as a tutor and teacher’s aide. She became Byng’s Johnson-O’Malley (JOM) representative and ultimately the Indian education coordinator.

To further her career, she enrolled at East Central University in Ada. As part of her studies, she learned the Chickasaw language. The same year Monroe earned a Native American Studies degree, she took over the Chickasaw language class at Byng.

Wanting to learn more about the language, she entered the Chickasaw Nation’s Master Apprentice Language Program and was paired with fluent speaker Pauline Walker. Together, they more fully explored the intricacies of the Chickasaw language.

Monroe was recognized by the National JOM Association as the teacher of the year in 2018. She retired from Byng schools the same year and was honored by AARP Oklahoma for her lifetime of service.

Monroe is involved at First Indian Baptist Church in Ada and is a member of the Native Praise Choir.

In addition to teaching Chickasaw language classes for the Chickasaw Nation History and Culture Division, Monroe attends art classes and takes piano lessons. She and her husband of 47 years, Leonard Monroe, have two children, James and Christy.

“I’d like to say, this is something I never dreamed of. I appreciate being thought of. I’m just glad that God blessed me to be where I am today with the people I am with today,” Monroe said while accepting the award.

“The biggest blessing was to be able to be in a place where I could speak the language,” she said. “I’ve been able to keep learning and I get to spend a lot of time with our elders.”

Monroe spoke of her relationship with Chickasaw elder and fluent speaker Pauline Brown, who was a 2018 Silver Feather award recipient.

“When I start to speak and learn new words, the first thing I do is look to Pauline. She’s going to tell me how to say it,” Monroe said with a laugh. “If you’ve learned how to say something, use it and pass it on. If you pass it on, then our language will be with us always.”

Established in 2006, the Dynamic Chickasaw Woman of the Year Award honors Chickasaw women who have made significant contributions to the nation, serve as role models to other Chickasaw women and have made a difference in the lives of Chickasaws and other citizens, enriching their communities and society at large.

Chickasaw women have historically been an integral part of the warrior society, serving as guards and coming to the aid of warriors in battle. Chickasaw women know how to handle adversity, difficulties and trials with courage and determination. They are able to reach from within and accomplish things which seem beyond ordinary capabilities, as has been their tradition for many generations.

As leaders in education, health care, arts, cultural advocacy, the legal profession, politics, social services and community development, Chickasaw women continue to forge new roads that serve as a force of empowerment for girls, women and men of all ages.

Previous awardees include Dr. Judylee Oliva, Lisa Johnson-Billy, Dr. Tina Marie Cooper, Dr. Teresa M. Shavney, Mildred “Millie” Blackmon, Steffani Cochran, Ellen Brooker, Dr. Shannon Speed, Dr. Karen Goodnight, Mary Ruth Barnes, Shelby Rowe, Brenda Kingery and Dr. Amanda Cobb-Greetham.

Silver Feather - Harold Stick

Harold Stick received the prestigious 2019 Silver Feather Award.

“The people who preserve our culture are very, very special. We recognize an individual who is committed to keeping our Chickasaw culture, traditions and language alive and thriving,” Governor Anoatubby said. “People with a passion for preserving our past and presenting it to others are a wellspring for future Chickasaw leaders, entrepreneurs, speakers, storytellers, artists and craftsmen.

“This evening we present the Silver Feather Award to one such individual, a Chickasaw with a passion for speaking our language and sharing it with others. A Chickasaw who has shown his strength and kept the Chickasaw warrior spirit alive through three decades of military service. A Chickasaw who expresses himself and our culture through artistic beadwork. We are speaking of Mr. Harold Stick.”

Stick, a native of Allen, Oklahoma, is the son of the late Martin C. Stick Sr. and Eliza Vene (Walton) Stick.

Stick volunteered for the Marine Corps, serving two tours in Vietnam. He retired after serving 32 combined years of service in the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard.

He continues with a Chickasaw warrior spirit, serving as sergeant-at-arms at the Chickasaw Nation Veterans Lodge.

Stick is a fluent speaker who is quick to share Chickasaw language and stories with interested veterans. He is welcoming, and his seasoned experience earns respect from the veterans and visitors who visit the lodge. He is also a self-taught and accomplished beadwork artist.

“I’m sitting there listening to all this, and I’m thinking that doesn’t sound like me! Who are they talking about?” Stick joked upon accepting his award.

“But I am honored and humbled by this award. And I said I wasn’t going to do that,” he said holding back tears.

“I stand in the shadows of those who have come before me. You see the list,” he said, pointing to the names of previous Silver Feather recipients. “They are my elders. I still have elders here. Those are the ones that have become my role models.”

He said he grew up understanding what it is to be Chickasaw because he had role models in his parents and grandparents as well as his extended family and church family.

“What sustains me today, carries me – and hopefully I may pass it on to my grandchildren – is that set of morals, values and beliefs. For me, that’s the way I live. I don’t know of any other way to live. To me it was being of service to other people,” Stick said.

“I’m an elder’s child. I spent a great deal of time around my elders, my grandparents and especially at church. I hung around some of those old men and learned their stories and what to do and what not to be. I spent a great deal of time sitting around drinking coffee. I enjoyed morning coffee with my granny. Then later on I’d spent a great deal of time around the kitchen table with my mom. They allowed me to talk about anything. That’s why I’d say I was an elder’s child; they talked to me as an adult, not as a child. I was grateful for that,” Stick said.

Created in 1999, the Silver Feather Award honors Chickasaws who have committed their lives to the preservation and revitalization of Chickasaw culture, language and life tradition.

Previous Silver Feather awardees include Adam Walker, Pauline Walker, Charlie Carter, Juanita Byars, Sim Greenwood, Geneva Holman, Leerene Frazier, Rose Jefferson, Stanley Smith, Marie Beck, Jerry Underwood, Catherin Pickens Willmond, Weldon Fulsom, Emma McLeod, Jerry Imotichey, Virginia Alexander Bolen, Sam Johnson, Sue Fish, Daniel Worcester and Pauline Brown.

Chickasaw Historical Society Service awards - Michael Cornelius and James Wenonah Gunning

Michael Cornelius and the late James Wenonah Gunning were both honored with a Chickasaw Historical Society Service award.

The Chickasaw Historical Society was established by tribal law April 15, 1994. Since that time, the historical society and society members have worked toward the mission statement of promoting, preserving and protecting Chickasaw culture and family traditions.

“I’m very honored to be here, to be recognized,” Cornelius said. “All along, the Chickasaw Nation has been supportive and very helpful to me. I applaud everything they do, their efforts and continuing support of the education field. I just want to thank everyone here for being my family and friends. Thank you very much.”

Cornelius is the grandson of Silas and Bessie Maytubby. His grandfather, Silas, was an original enrollee.

He graduated from Mill Creek High School and attended several institutions of higher learning across the United States, completing both undergraduate and graduate programs.

Professionally, Cornelius worked for more than 40 years in various educational, tribal and state institutions in Oklahoma, Minnesota and Alaska.

His many accomplishments include receiving the national TRIO Achiever Award for his efforts in providing educational excellence for disadvantaged youth (TRIO represents three programs, including Upward Bound, Talent Search and Student Support Services). Cornelius has served on numerous educational and tribal committees and boards, including the Chickasaw Historical Society Board of Directors.

Cornelius is known for making and playing Native American flutes. His artwork has garnered 39 awards and been featured during SEASAM and the Te Ata Fisher Chickasaw Nation Employee Art Show.

He retired as manager of the Chickasaw Nation Ada Area Office in 2017. He and his wife, Patti, are the proud grandparents of 20 grandchildren.


Gunning was named after her maternal grandfather, James T. Rosser, though she preferred to go by her middle name, Wenonah. Her paternal great-grandparents were removed to Indian Territory and her great-grandfather, Smith Paul, settled the Washita Valley, present-day Pauls Valley, Oklahoma.

After graduating from college, Gunning worked to provide commodities and farm equipment for low-income families near Tahlequah, Oklahoma. She married in 1941 and was a devoted wife and mother.

She was a member of the Indian-Oklahoma Club and a leader in church and civic organizations.

Gunning worked for the Oklahoma County welfare office and later became a consultant in the state office. After retiring from the state in 1984, she began organizing her historical information into scrapbooks and donated many items to the Chickasaw Archives, the Five Civilized Tribes Museum and the Santa Fe Depot Museum in Pauls Valley. She also set up the Paul Room in the Eskridge Hotel Museum in Wynnewood, Oklahoma.

She was appointed to the Chickasaw Historical Society Board of Directors in 1994, where she served until her passing in 2010. In 2015, “Wenonah’s Story: A Memoir of a Chickasaw Family” was released by the Chickasaw Press.

“My mother, Wenonah Paul Gunning, has been gone for almost 10 years now. I miss her very much. For many years I took my mother for granted. I didn’t realize what a remarkable person she was,” Robin Gunning said. “Wenonah had a strong personality. At one point she was offered a position as coordinator of our church’s mission program among Indian tribes. She turned it down. She probably would have turned this award down, too. It would have made her self-conscious. That’s the way she was. She didn’t like to draw attention to herself. Her concern was always for others.”

Another quality that characterized his mother was a pride in their Chickasaw heritage, he said.

“Wenonah was a collector. She saved pictures, documents, newspaper articles and significant objects, donating many things to museums and the Chickasaw Archives,” he said. “She was excited to be able to take part in preserving our heritage. She was particularly interested in preserving Chickasaw legends and beliefs. If she were here today, I know she’d be proud of our tribe’s continued historical research and education. Thanks again on behalf of my mother. I’m honored and gratified to see her recognized for her contributions.”

SEASAM winners

Awards were also presented to winners of the Southeastern Art Show and Market, a juried event where artists enter up to four pieces of artwork in the categories of 2-D, 3-D, cultural and miniature art.

Submitted artworks included paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, jewelry, pottery, textiles, baskets, regalia and more.

The top winners in each category were:

Best in Show – F. Gene Smith, Choctaw

Best in Division, Cultural – J. Eric Smith, Chickasaw

Best in Division, 3-D art – Billy Hensley, Chickasaw

Best in Division, 2-D art – Ron Mitchell, Cherokee

Best of Show, youth – Noah Kauffman

The show is open to all artists of Southeastern and Woodlands tribes. The winning artworks, as well as works from all other participating artists, were showcased Oct. 4-5 at the Chickasaw National Capitol grounds in Tishomingo during the 2019 Chickasaw Annual Meeting and Festival.

New Chickasaw Press and White Dog Press publications

Chickasaw Press and White Dog Press publications were also released during the awards ceremony.

New from the Chickasaw Press include, “Protecting Our People: Chickasaw Law Enforcement in Indian Territory” authored by Michelle Cooke, “Exploring the Depths of History: A Selection of Nineteenth-Century Water Wells in Indian Territory,” by Towana Spivey and a paperback version of “Chickasaw Removal” created by Daniel F. Littlefield Jr., Amanda L. Paige and Fuller Bumpers.

White Dog Press, an imprint of the Chickasaw Press, released a few publications which may interest young readers.

“Koni” follows a whimsical skunk through a variety of day-to-day situations designed to help children sniff out opposites such as big and little, or wet and dry. The book is written exclusively in the Chickasaw language by Chickasaw citizens Sherrie Begay, Kari A.B. Chew, Steffani Cochran and Donna Courtney-Welch.

Also, a compendium graphic novel called “Chickasaw Adventures: The Complete Collection” combines all released issues of the Chickasaw comic book with five new unreleased issues.

“Chikasha Holisso Holba: Chickasaw Picture and Coloring Book,” by Vinnie Humes is an old favorite remade to bring history and language together. Vinnie May, known to all as “Sadie,” and her husband, Jesse Humes, co-authored “A Chickasaw Dictionary,” the first book published by the Chickasaw Nation in 1973.

A few years later, Sadie Humes compiled and illustrated the first edition of Chikasha Holisso Holba, a new work that paired her original illustrations with their Chickasaw names and English translations.

Now, White Dog Press partners with the Chickasaw Historical Society to republish Chikasha Holisso Holba as a language and coloring book. The revival of Humes’ work also reemphasizes the vitality of her contribution to the history of Chickasaw and Native American literature.

For more information on the books and other Chickasaw Press publications, please visit