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mother, who was one-quarter Native Ameri- can, teaching her about female strength. Her fi nal great grandmother, who was very infl u- ential in her life, died when she was 25 years old. Billy still uses her canning equipment. “I canned some delicious spaghetti sauce with fresh tomatoes last week,” she said. In the Chickasaw and Choctaw cultures, both matrilineal societies, it’s common for women to serve in leadership. However, serving at the Capitol, it’s much more male- dominated. She lives by the saying “leave it better than when you found it.” In doing so, she hopes people will have a good memory of her work ethic and honesty and the road will be easier for her female and Native American successors. As a state representative, Billy stands for the interests of Native America. She was in- strumental in organizing the fi rst Chickasaw Nation Day at the Capitol and in starting a Native American caucus. The caucus led to meetings between tribal and state leaders and resulted in good communication that had never happened before. A member of Rural Electric Cooperative (REC) based in Lindsay, Okla., Billy keeps track of issues that could impact rural Oklahoma and in- forms the Legislature about what’s good and not good for the state.


Billy lives on 40 acres west of Purcell, Okla., with her husband and three children. During her 16 years as a co-op member, she has spoken at co-op youth events and served at REC’s fi refi ghter dinner. In addition to her volunteer work with the co-op, she also spent six years in the Chickasaw legislature and has served in the Oklahoma House for eight years.


Serving the people


A sixth-generation Cherokee resident, deputy principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, S. Joe Crittenden can trace his native ancestry back to the late 1700s. Some of his ancestors came to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears and others came over from Europe.


Crittenden was born in Miami, Okla., in 1944 to a Cherokee father and mother of European descent. The family moved to Stillwell, Okla., shortly after his birth. Less than a year later, they relocated to California, where his dad worked for the Navy for 10 years before returning to Stillwell permanently.


Crittenden has fond memories of the time he spent with his Cherokee grandfather while in el- ementary school. Crittenden recalls that he was a big, strong, and hard-working gentleman. Regard- less of how hot or cold it was outside, he was up before dawn to get the chores done. “We’d accomplish more by 9 a.m. than most people do in a whole day,” Crittenden said. In addition to a good work ethic, his grandfa- ther taught him the difference between right and


culture regularly. I learned a lot of Cherokee words and phrases. It was a simple life, but a good life. ”


His cousin’s family owned the only televi- sion in the community so people often con- gregated at his house to watch TV and play cards.


After living in several rental houses, some with electricity and some without, Critten- den’s parents became homeowners in 1963. He remembers the day, a year after he gradu- ated from Stillwell High School, when elec- tricity fi rst illuminated his parents’ home. Previously they had cooked on a wood stove, completed homework assignments by the light of a coal lamp, and stored fresh milk in the spring to keep it cool.


“Electricity is one of the things that im- proved our standard of living tremendously,” Crittenden said. “Ozarks Electric Coopera- tive has been a real blessing to the area where I grew up.”


After graduating from high school, the U.S Navy deployed Crittenden to Vietnam for three-and-a-half years.


Joe Crittenden, a member of Ozarks Electric Cooperative, is a sixth-generation Cherokee resident. Crittenden currently serves at the deputy principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. Crittenden enjoys serving members of the Cherokee Nation by pursuing projects that may address health care, housing, infrastructure and educational needs.


Photo by James Pratt


wrong, both valuable lessons that have stuck with him through the years and have shaped him into a better leader today. He can remember his grandfa- ther telling him about a situation that happened and how he felt like it shouldn’t have. “He’d say, ‘That ain’t right, son. Anything worth doing is worth doing right,’” Crittenden said. Crittenden enjoyed his time on his grandfa- ther’s farm, learning his Native American ways— raising chickens and gathering their eggs, milking cows and churning butter from the fresh cream, learning how to harness work horses and plant a garden. Growing up without electricity and in- door plumbing, he spent time outside, hunting, fi shing, and catching crawdads with the full-blood Cherokee kids who lived nearby.


“Some people who identify themselves as Native American go to hog roasts, participate in powwow gatherings, and play stickball and marbles on spe- cial occasions,” Crittenden said. “We lived among the native community so we were exposed to that


Returning home from military service, he went to work for the Chickasaw tribe for a few years and later earned a business degree at Northeastern State College (now North- eastern State University) in Tahlequah, Okla. After graduating, he worked for the Hous- ing Authority of the Cherokee Nation. In 1976, he took a job with the U.S. Postal Ser- vice (USPS), where he served for almost 29 years. As postmaster, he was serious about serving his customers.


“I’d remind my staff that the most impor- tant word in USPS is ‘service,’” he said. “As a tribal leader, my daily goal is to help provide the services to people that they deserve.” In 2003, a year before Crittenden retired from the USPS, he ran for the Cherokee tribal council. During his two, four-year terms on the council, he served as commissioner for the Hous- ing Authority of the Cherokee Nation, as well as holding several other leadership positions. “As a tribe, I felt there were some things we could provide—health care, housing, infrastruc- ture, and educational needs—that were sometimes not being met,” Crittenden said.


Thus, he ran for deputy principal chief, an offi ce similar to that of vice president. And in 2011, the Cherokee people elected him to the position he still holds today.


Though there are various ceremonial duties in- volved in Crittenden’s role—a ribbon cutting at a new business owned by a tribal citizen or a ground- breaking at a new housing development—his ef- forts are focused on serving the Cherokee people. Crittenden spends much of his time listening to people and helping them overcome obstacles.


Continued on Page 18 SEPTEMBER 2012 17


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