(L-R): The Cherokee Freedmen History Project Advisory Committee was honored with the Cherokee Nation’s Community Leadership Organization Award during a ceremony Thursday, Aug. 31 in Tahlequah.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation celebrated several tribal citizens and organizations for their statesmanship, patriotism, community leadership and devotion to the tribe during the Cherokee National Holiday Awards Ceremony held on Thursday, Aug. 31, at the Chota Center.

“Each year, the Cherokee Nation pauses to pay recognition to Cherokee citizens, as well as our non-Native friends, who have worked tirelessly to promote and advance the efforts of the Cherokee Nation,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “This year’s honorees have gone above and beyond in their service both here on the Cherokee Nation Reservation, and around the world. Their efforts will have generational impacts. We are honored to have worked with each and every one of this year’s honorees, and we thank them for their service to the Cherokee people.”


Medal of Patriotism Award

The Medal of Patriotism Award is given in recognition of those who answered the call of duty, made great sacrifices and risked their lives in service to Cherokee Nation and the United States of America, tirelessly defending and promoting freedom and liberty for Cherokees and all mankind.

• Ashley Dawn Clemmer, of Oologah, Okla., retired from the U.S. Air Force as a Master Sergeant. Clemmer’s highly decorated career saw her recognized for service not only in peacetime, but also during Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism. Clemmer’s heroes growing up were her grandparents, Wayne and Wahlele Waldrup, whose love for one another was an inspiration. She is delighted by the opportunity to spend more time with her family, including her husband and their four children.

• Jeffrey Trussler was an officer of the U.S. Navy for more than 35 years and assumed duties as director of Naval Intelligence and deputy chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare in June 2020. Trussler is a graduate of Miami (Okla.) High School, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Junior College, Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma. He is most proud of his shipmates during his command of USS Maryland (SSBN 738) (Blue) who attained senior leadership positions in the Chief’s Quarters, as well as the eight officers that went on to their own commands.

The Statesmanship Award

The Statesmanship Award is given in recognition of those who, as public servants, epitomize the servant leader ideal, exemplifying Cherokee values and acting with respect, dignity and graciousness while working for the betterment of Cherokee Nation and its citizens.

• Shawn James Crittenden, of Stilwell, Okla., leads a life that embraces the idea of Gadugi. Elected to two terms on the Council of the Cherokee Nation representing District 8 from 2015-2023, Crittenden sponsored key legislation to strengthen education and infrastructure, like the Wilma P. Mankiller and Charlie Soap Water Act and an amendment to the Concurrent Enrollment Scholarship Act of 2011. After 15 years working as a teacher, Crittenden recently joined the Cherokee Nation Education Department.

• Mary Smith is the President of the American Bar Association and is the first Native American woman to hold the office. Smith is an independent board member and former CEO of the Indian Health Service, providing health care to more than two million people across the country. She currently serves on the board of PTC Therapeutics, Inc. and is vice chair of the VENG Group. Earlier, Mary served as a senior in-house counsel at Tyco International and Associate Counsel to the President in the White House. She founded the Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation, promoting Native American girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Community Leadership Individual Award

The Community Leadership Individual Award is given in recognition of Cherokee Nation citizens who tirelessly have given, without hesitation, their time to make their communities more vibrant, livable places. Their example of servant leadership embodies Cherokee values, and is held in high esteem by their peers for strengthening the bonds of Cherokee Nation citizens.

• Randy Campbell has worked most of his life on behalf of workers and labor rights in Tulsa and was an officer of Teamsters Local 523 for 35 years. In 2020, Campbell was awarded the Silver Eagle from the Northeast Oklahoma Labor Council – AFL-CIO. Campbell, who served in the U.S. Army from 1972-1980, grew up in a family of transportation workers. His father was a truck driver, as were all the men in his father’s family. Now retired, Campbell volunteers as a truck driver and serves on the Cherokee Nation Election Commission. He enjoys the great camaraderie at Cherokee National Holiday. In his spare time, he enjoys playing golf and bowling.

• Roger Dale Fine Jr. is a special agent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services and previously served as a liaison for the Office of Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons in the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. In 2020, Fine received the Legion of Merit from the OSBI. He is currently working to improve efforts to identify and combat violent crime on Indian lands and against Indians as a commissioner for the Not Invisible Act Joint Commission. He serves as a Fire Chief of the Peggs Volunteer Fire Department, for which he has volunteered for 25 years.

• Christine Neuhoff, having led Cherokee Nation’s Task Force to Protect Women and Families, and as chair of the Cherokee National Historical Society, continues to make major contributions to the well-being of Cherokee communities. The task force’s work resulted in many improvements towards assisting victims and survivors of intimate partner and family violence. Neuhoff, who resides in Eagle, Idaho, is senior vice president and chief legal officer for St. Luke’s Health System, Idaho’s largest private employer. Growing up in a military family, Neuhoff’s heroes were her parents, Barbara Hummingbird and Bill Shero, and grandmother, Annabelle Johnson Hummingbird. Her children study at Yale University and the University of Oklahoma. She currently leads the effort to renew and reopen the Cherokee Heritage Center.

Community Leadership Organization Award

The Community Leadership Organization Award is given in recognition of Cherokee Nation communities that have demonstrated the spirit of working together through servant leadership, as well as applying Cherokee values to make their communities a better place for Cherokee Nation citizens.

• Little Cherokee Seeds (ᏧᎾᏍᏗᎢ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᎤᏂᎦᏔ) was founded in 2018 after a mother could not find resources to help her newborn son learn the Cherokee language. After reaching out to language teachers, a first-of-its-kind reading hour began on June 15, 2019. It expanded and continued remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Little Cherokee Seeds is now advancing a mission of creating fluent speakers again by approximating the day-to-day experiences those speakers had during childhood. It reopened its doors in November 2022 to five brave Cherokee families.

• The Cherokee Freedmen History Project Advisory Committee was established in August 2021 after the Cherokee Nation reached out to community leaders of Freedmen descent and asked if they would like to assist the Cherokee Nation Cultural Department. The committee members provided essential guidance towards the creation of “We Are Cherokee: Cherokee Freedmen and the Right to Citizenship,” an exhibit which explores the history of slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Treaty of 1866, community leaders, and the fight to retain Cherokee Nation citizenship prior to Cherokee Nation v. Nash in 2017.

Samuel Worcester Award

The Samuel Worcester Award is given to non-Cherokees who have made substantial contributions to the preservation of Cherokee heritage, culture, community and sovereignty.

• Patty Palmer Ghezzi’s work is distinguished by a legal career defending the principle of equality before the law, representing indigenous people and the sovereignty of Native American tribes. Ghezzi was counsel of record in Sharp v. Murphy, a Supreme Court decision which affirmed McGirt v. Oklahoma. She currently assists the Attorney General of Cherokee Nation in cases related to the McGirt decision. In accepting this award, she recalls the importance of Samuel Worcester to Cherokees before the forced removal, and the injustice he faced when a state government made it a crime for him to live in Cherokee Territory.

Selected as the 2023 Cherokee National Holiday Parade Marshal was D.J. McCarter, a pastor of Elm Tree Baptist Church for the past 33 years who serves and leads his community with great passion. He has been instrumental in sharing the Cherokee language through the hymns he and his wife, Frances, sing at church, and on his radio program with KTLQ. McCarter is a native of the Briggs community in Cherokee County and resides on his family’s allotment. He holds a Master of Education from Northeastern State University and an honorary doctorate from Fellowship Bible Institute in Tulsa.