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National Indian Education Association names Cherokee as Elder of the Year
By TESINA JACKSON
Thurs, Oct 21, 2010
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen John Gritts was named the National Indian Education Association’s Elder of the Year in October during its 41st annual convention in San Diego.
“I never envisioned this happening to me,” Gritts said. “You never work to receive an award like this. I think you work because you believe in what you’re doing, and all of sudden to be on stage and there and excepting this award, being honored, I mean it’s such an honor to be acknowledged for your work that it was humbling. It was fun. It was exciting, but yet, you know you have to keep it in perspective.”
The NIEA’s Male Elder of the Year is awarded to an elder, 60 years or older, who has made outstanding contributions to Native American education. Gritts serves as the management and program analyst for federal student aid with the U.S. Department of Education in Denver.
“I got the letter in late July, but I didn’t tell anybody,” Gritts, 62, said. “I started telling them probably in August or early September. First I was shocked. I thought someone was playing a joke on me. I was just trying to stay humble.”
Gritts, who has been in the education field for more than 30 years, was nominated by three of his colleagues.
“They said nice things about me, and it made me feel good that they would nominate me. And I was surprised when I received the letter from NIEA saying congratulations,” he said. “It caught me totally off guard. I replied to the e-mail that had the letter in it and said, ‘Is this for real?’”
The NIEA is committed to increasing educational opportunities and resources for American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students while protecting their cultural and linguistic traditions.
Dr. Gloria Sly, who works in the Cherokee Nation’s Education Services, attended the convention for its sessions, but also offered her congratulations to Gritts.
“I was thrilled. Not many Cherokees get recognized at the national level,” Sly said. “When I look at who the educators of the year and elders of the year and all of that, there might be some from Oklahoma, but very few Cherokees. I’m the only Cherokee to have served as president of NEIA, and so it’s just really different to be acknowledged at a national level among your peers. I think it’s wonderful, and he’s a wonderful guy.”
Created in 1970, the NIEA is the largest and oldest Indian education organization in the nation. It strives to keep Indian Country moving toward educational equity.