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'Elders Are the Difference'

OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma State University (OSU) will present the Fifth Annual American Indian Elders Conference, "Elders Are the Difference," Sept. 9 - 11 in Oklahoma City. The main goal of the conference is to recognize the differences American Indian elders make in the lives of others as they strive to improve their own lifestyles. NASA's Commander John Herrington, the first Native American astronaut, will appear at the Sept. 10 banquet where outstanding elders and their accomplishments will be recognized.

The conference, which was put together by representatives of Oklahoma IHS clinics, will deal with topics including Alzheimer's disease, cancer, diabetes, exercise, pain management, grandparents raising grandchildren and more.

"The conference is for American Indian elders in the tribal community, so we target the coordinators of the nutrition and elders programs for each tribe," said Program Director Shona Gambrell. "Some health care workers are included also, but for the most part this is just for elders."

While the conference will cover a lot of medical issues, Gambrell notes that the conference is open to all elders, and the presentations are designed so that anyone can understand the information. "Our presenters are of Native descent, they are from tribes, many are coordinators of elder programs themselves," Gambrell said. "The presentations are designed for the lay person to understand. Health care for the elderly is the main focus; however we also have presentations on social security and elder abuse. It's designed for elders to both learn things for themselves, and to take these ideas back to their communities." Last year 350 people attended and Gambrell expects that number to rise this year.

Herrington will be the guest speaker at the highlight of the conference awards banquet on Sept. 10. "That is where we provide a meal for the elders and recognize those elders who have been nominated for outstanding service by their tribe. We get numerous nominations; one man and one woman are nominated from each tribe. We are looking at about 30 elders to be recognized that evening. The banquet is usually larger than the rest of the conference itself; we usually have anywhere up to 500 people show up, because the elders like to invite their families. We will also present Commander Herrington with a special award as someone who has made a difference for the Indian community."

While it is up to the tribes to nominate the elders for the awards, Gambrell says that the nominations are usually for elders who have worked on tribal programs to help the elderly in their community. "Typically people who are nominated have started a caregiver support program in their tribe, or they have provided support or created a program for grandparents raising their grandchildren, that's what we have seen so far." Sadly not all tribes nominate their elders. "Even though there are so many tribes in Oklahoma, we typically only get feedback from a few tribes, maybe 15 or 20."

The $35 registration fee to attend the conference includes admission to the conference, the banquet, and attendees will also receive a print to commemorate the conference by the artist Dana Tiger, "Elders, We Are the Difference."

The conference will be held at the Marriott Hotel, 3233 N.W. Expressway, Oklahoma City.

For more information on conference registration, call for presentations, conference support, or "Outstanding Elder" nominations contact either Shona Gambrell at Oklahoma State University, at (405) 744-6571 or or K. Denise Smith at Lawton Indian Hospital by calling toll-free (888) 275-4886, ext. 348 or Conference information can also be found at