OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma – Muscogee citizens John Brown and Anne Townsend-Edwards were awarded at the 14th Annual 2022 AARP Oklahoma Native American Elder Honors at The First Americans Museum Hall of the People on Nov. 9.
With 350 attendees, the event honored 39 Native American elders from 20 Oklahoma tribal nations for their achievements, community service, and impact.
Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference of The United Methodist Church Bishop David Wilson presented a medallion to each recipient. The honorees were teachers, veterans, artists, tribal leaders, culture preservationists, and everyday heroes.
AARP Oklahoma State Director Sean Voskuhl said the Native American Elder Honors was established to memorialize the work and contributions of elders who inspire future generations. “Whether they are well known or exhibit quiet devotion to family and community, all our honorees represent the love of family, dedication to culture, and respect for all,” Voskuhl said. “These honored elders embody AARP’s mission and, through example, motivate others to follow suit and selflessly serve their communities.”
“Individually, their accomplishments are remarkable. Their impact is breathtaking throughout Indian Country and our nation.”
Since Edwards came into the position as the MCN Tribal Liaison, a job requiring her to advocate for Muscogee Citizens living “Beyond the reservation.” Her focus on outreach has helped connect citizens to the Muscogee Reservation even though they are physically miles away.
The Facebook page, “Muscogee Nation Citizens Beyond the Reservation,” was one of Edward’s first communication tools. It has helped bridge several gaps in communication. She said outreach is the most important yet challenging part of the job. Edwards keeps citizens up to speed with her Facebook Live broadcasts and daily postings on relevant information. One such posting was about the AARP public announcement. According to Edwards, she shared the information, thinking someone may want to nominate an elder.
On a random afternoon in the office, Townsend-Edwards receives a call from the AARP representative Mashell Sourjohn explaining that she was awarded. It stunned her because she was unaware she was nominated and could not even imagine who nominated her.
Sourjohn told Townsend-Edwards that it was her son who nominated her. When she made the post about the AARP award, her son was also monitoring the social media page. It’s where he got the initial idea to nominate her.
Her son realized she was eligible for the award.
“I had made the post not even realizing that my son was paying attention to things I was posting on Facebook,” she said.
Later, she received an email that contained a statement written by her son that tugged on her heartstrings and helped reassure her as a single mother.
“It made me feel good because I’ve been a single mother since my son was born. I always lived in fear if I’m making the right decision for him or doing the right thing,” she said. “Him being a boy, he’s not mushy.”
“I had hopes that I could inspire him and was setting a good example, but I had no idea I was impacting him in this way.”
In the letter, the young man mentions how he watched his mother study to earn multiple degrees. He talked about her work with the at-large citizens and her efforts to create and teach a language program that reached people as far as London, England.
“He talked about why he was inspired by me being his mother, and he felt that I deserved an award like that,” she said. “Not just because I was his mom but because of all the things he had been watching me do.”
Giving back to the community and tribe is instilled in Edwards. She does her work from the heart, saying that this position is more than just a job.
Being raised by a strong Mvskoke woman inspires her to keep influencing the Mvskoke people.
Unfortunately, she could not attend the ceremony due to family circumstances, but she was still honored and given her medallion.
Many call the MCN Department of Cultural Preservation Project Coordinator by his nickname, “John-John.” Brown couldn’t help but think the award was a joke from one of his buddies or even suspected it might be a scam caller.
“Once I turned 50, I started getting a lot of calls from AARP and things like that,” he said. “I hung up on the lady the first time.”
The next day, he received an email explaining the reality of the award and that he needed to contact her. Brown called the woman back, apologized, and spoke with her about the award details. She told him he was nominated for the award. He eventually came around to believing her.
It is still a mystery to Brown who nominated him, but like Edwards, he was stunned that someone did.
He claims the person had to be someone he knew because they stated some personal comments he has made about being someone the Creator has blessed with the talent to make different traditional pieces. The person also mentions Brown’s humility and his ability to teach others.
“The creator gave me these gifts so I could pass them on,” he said.
In his career with MCN, Brown has taught thousands of citizens how to make bows, blow darts, and many other traditional classes and events to help carry on Mvskoke traditions.
Over almost two decades of service, Brown has missed family events and grandchildren’s activities when dedicating his weekend and after-hours time to an event. He claims he has often been discouraged in his work, almost wanting to call it quits.
“Doing what I’ve done over the last 15-20 years, there comes a time where you start to feel like your efforts aren’t recognized,” he said. “There are times when I get a group of youth where not all are interested in our traditional ways and what we do.”
Brown claims that kids today are interested in phones, video games, and other technologies, which sometimes distract them from what he may be trying to teach them.
The award came at a perfect time for Brown, claiming that he was at a low in his career, and the award gave him the boost he needed to continue. Brown claims he has shed tears at times and cried out to the Creator for guidance during these times of hardship and discouragement. He is glad he never gave up.
“The people I was in there with, one had worked in health all of his life, picked by the president to run the nation’s health system, others had their doctorate degrees and done all these things across the world,” he said. “To stand on the same stage, I never considered myself that important. It was quite an honor.”
Brown and Townsend both continue to serve the Mvskoke People with pride.