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As a kickoff of the American Indian Festival of Words, the Tulsa City County Library honored astronaut and retired Naval aviator Cmdr. John Herrington by adding him to the Circle of Honor.

“If people hadn’t come along in my life to encourage me. If they hadn’t done that we wouldn’t be having this conversation today,” Herrington, a Chickasaw citizen, said. “I wouldn’t have had the opportunity or privilege to be presented with the Circle of Honor from the American Indian Resource Center. I am humbled and to have my family here is a blessing.”

The Chickasaw Honor Guard was in attendance to do the posting of colors during the celebration.

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“We posted colors, along with displaying our eagle staff. It is always a pleasure to be a part of ceremonies honoring Chickasaw citizens, especially those for other veterans,” honor guard member Silas Welch said.

The Circle of Honor Award recognizes First Americans from Oklahoma for their lifetime achievements. Recipients’ contributions have had to enhance the life of others, while drawing attention to First American customs, traditions and culture.

“Representing the Chickasaw Nation is truly an honor,” Welch said.

Richard Andrews, Mary Baken, David Cavener, Keith Mowdy, Doyle Somers and Welch were the Chickasaw Honor Guard members who participated in the ceremony.

Herrington’s illustrious military career included the dangerous job of becoming a test pilot. Recognized for his nerves of steel, along with his engineering aptitude, NASA selected Herrington for the nation’s astronaut program. A member of an elite group of individuals, Herrington is in a cohort of nearly 650 people worldwide having the privilege of traveling to space.

“It is estimated that 108 billion people have lived on the Earth. As of today, 644 of us have had a chance to fly in space. (I was told by a friend) Never forget how fortunate you are to have done something so very few people have done. Out of the 644, only 277 have stepped outside and done a spacewalk.” Herrington said at the Festival of Words.

Herrington was the first tribal citizen of a federally recognized tribe to become an astronaut. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, eight astronauts have had ties to Oklahoma.

He logged nearly 14 days orbiting the Earth, during which he completed three spacewalks.

“While Tulsa is in another reservation, the Tulsa Library recognized Herrington’s Chickasaw heritage and veteran status. Having us there was a sign of respect, both to Cmdr. Herrington and to his tribe’s honor guard,” Welch said.

“It feels good to be able to honor citizens and veterans for their dedication, achievements and representation of First Americans for organizations like the Tulsa Library,” Welch said.

Upon retirement from the U.S. Navy, Herrington continued his education. He earned a Ph.D. in education from the University of Idaho. He can often be found in his home state of Oklahoma promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

“My journey to space began here in Oklahoma,” Herrington said. “You don’t know the people from Oklahoma until you are here, until you are with and spend time with them. To really apricate the people and the red dirt of Oklahoma you must be on the ground. To see it from their perspective.”

Past recipients of the Circle of Honor Award include Oklahoma educators, community leaders, artists and legal scholars. Herrington joins the ranks of First Americans such as Wilma Mankiller, Cherokee; Ruth Blalock Jones, Shawnee/ Delaware/Peoria; and fellow Chickasaw, Neil McCaleb.

“To honor my Native American heritage, I flew a feather and a flute while on the space station,” Herrington said. “The flute was given to me by Jim Gilliam, a Cherokee. He was an engineer at the Kennedy Space Center. The feather was given to me by an elder who was and elder with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. His wife is Chickasaw.”

Instated in 2004, Herrington is among 11 other First Americans selected during the last two decades to receive the Circle of Honor Award. Circle of Honor Awards are presented biannually by the American Indian Resource Center (AIRC).

“The Tulsa Library AIRC did an excellent job honoring Cmdr. Herrington and were extremely hospitable hosts to the Chickasaw Honor Guard,” Welch said. “This was expressed during a Blanket presentation from the AIRC to the Chickasaw Honor Guard.”

AIRC is located within the Tulsa Library System and maintains the system’s First American collection. AIRC has provided more than 20 years of service to Green Country.

With more than 4,000 artifacts, materials within the collection include fiction and nonfiction books, rare historic treasures, film, music and artwork.

The Chickasaw Honor Guard presenting colors during the opening ceremonies paid homage to all First Americans, as well as acknowledging Herrington’s Chickasaw heritage and service to country.

“The (Chickasaw) Honor Guard participates in the neighborhood of 180 events annually. This year we have already participated in more than 90 postings of colors, community events and funerals,” Welch said. “Community engagement really ramps up during the spring and summer months. We are always looking for new Chickasaw veterans to join our ranks so that we don’t have to turn anyone away.”

The Chickasaw Honor Guard has a dedicated group of 15 volunteer members. Working around each member’s schedule often stretches the honor guard thin in attempts to fulfill event requests. Chickasaw veterans interested in joining or learning more about the Chickasaw Honor Guard are encouraged to visit its office at 1911 Warrior Way, Ada, Oklahoma, or submit a membership application via the Chickasaw Honor Guard service page at Chickasaw.net/ HonorGuard.

For more information about the Chickasaw Honor Guard, call (580) 310-7930.

Other activities during the Festival of Words included a Plains Indian sign language demonstration, First American storytelling, pottery and patchwork make and take workshops, dancing demonstrations, and more.

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