Five inducted into Chickasaw Hall of Fame

ADA, Okla. – Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby led April 25 induction ceremonies for the 2024 Chickasaw Hall of Fame. Inductees include an elite artist, a dedicated servant-leader, an early-day entrepreneur, a renowned legal scholar and a respected preservationist.

The 2024 inductees, Paul “Lance” Straughn; Patricia Ann Engle Woods; Montford Johnson, honored posthumously; Janie Simms Hipp, J.D., LL.M.; and William Joseph Wright, were honored in ceremonies at the Ataloa Theatre on the East Central University (ECU) campus.

“Our inductees tonight represent a wide array of achievements in agriculture, entrepreneurship, the arts, public service and the stewardship of nature,” Governor Anoatubby said.

“Their stories, rich with purpose, ingenuity and service, stand as inspiration for us all, encouraging us to pursue our dreams with vigor and serve our community with heart. Their accomplishments are a testament to the diverse talents and boundless potential within our community. Our inductees’ paths, while distinct, weave together a story of resilience, creativity and an unwavering commitment to our community and its values.

“Because of the work of our inductees, and the contributions of thousands of other exceptional Chickasaws, the Chickasaw Nation continues to grow and to thrive. Tonight is our way of thanking and memorializing these individuals for strengthening our tribe and uplifting our people,” he said.

Paul “Lance” Straughn, Bethany, Oklahoma

Paul “Lance” Straughn is a Chickasaw painter and sculptor. His passion for First American culture began after attending stomp dances with his grandmother, an original Chickasaw enrollee. Straughn’s art illustrates a unique perspective on First American history and culture and incorporates contemporary elements. His work appeared at shows in Oklahoma, Texas and the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian. Two of his pieces, “Night Run” and “Bear Clan Guardian,” are in the permanent collection of the U.S. Department of the Interior Museum in Washington, D.C., and several of his creations are at the Tribes Gallery in Norman, Oklahoma.

“An award-winning painter and sculptor, Lance’s work embodies the spirit and history of the Chickasaw people,” Governor Anoatubby said. “His art, which graces galleries and collections nationwide, invites reflection on our heritage and our identity, reminding us of the importance of cultural expression and preservation. By incorporating contemporary elements into his work, Lance maintains the efficacy of First American art in innovation, making traditional themes relevant in the here and now.

“Paul ‘Lance’ Straughn, thank you for your dedication to the arts and education, ensuring that our stories and traditions continue to inspire and inform future generations. Tonight, we have inducted you into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame.”

Straughn said he was “deeply humbled and profoundly grateful for the tremendous honor of being inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame.

“It is such an honor. I am very humbled and proud to be included. Many great Chickasaw leaders and historically important figures are included in the hall of fame. To be among them is one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.”

The Wilson, Oklahoma, native said he was fortunate to have some caring and talented people who provided inspiration and encouragement as he developed as an artist, and he thanked them all. He also thanked his father, his uncle and Chickasaw Hall of Fame honoree Clayborn Straughn, and his late wife of 48 years, Susan.

“Susan gave me inspiration, encouragement, loving approval and much needed constructive criticism until her passing in 2014. Her insightful input is gratefully missed.”

He said he was proud to be Chickasaw.

“The two things I hold most dear are my family and my Chickasaw heritage,” he said.

“I have always tried to be faithful creating art that illustrates how Chickasaws, and all tribes for that matter, lived their lives and practiced their own culture and traditions. I’ve studied many tribes and have been inspired by all of them.”

Patricia Ann Engle Woods, Davis, Oklahoma

Patricia Ann Engle Woods began her employment with the Chickasaw Nation in 1972 as one of the first community health representatives (CHR). For more than 40 years, she worked in multiple positions, including administrator of the program’s operations division and executive liaison to Governor Anoatubby. She made many contributions throughout her career to the progress of the Chickasaw Nation, serving as a Chickasaw delegate during the drafting of the Chickasaw Constitution in the 1980s. A large part of her career involved advocating for services for aging citizens in the Chickasaw Nation and throughout the United States.

“Patricia Ann Engle Woods has lived a life of service and of leadership. From her early days as a community health representative, which is a pivotal role, and the drafting of our 1983 Chickasaw Constitution, as well, Pat has been a guiding force for positive change within the Chickasaw Nation for more than four decades,” Governor Anoatubby said. “Her efforts in health services, cultural preservation and governance have fortified our community, ensuring that the Chickasaw Nation remains a vibrant and thriving society. Pat’s work reflects a deep commitment to the well-being and prosperity of our people, illustrating the impact one individual can have on the lives of many.

“To honor a lifetime of service to the Chickasaw Nation and our people, tonight we’ve inducted Pat Woods into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame.”

Woods accepted the award, thanking her family, former co-workers, Governor Anoatubby and other Chickasaws who paved the way for the tribe’s progress.

“The journey has been a collective effort, not just mine, and the self-satisfaction that I have derived from serving our tribe transcends any monetary awards. Knowing that our efforts, together, have positively impacted the lives of our Chickasaw people, that is the biggest award of all,” Woods said.

She shared the history of the establishment of the Chickasaw Nation Aging Division, which began as a written plan and one federal grant.

“Governor Anoatubby was much in favor of it, so he approved our plan, and that is one of the greatest things that has ever happened in our tribe,” she said, adding there are now 12 sites for Chickasaw elders throughout the Chickasaw Nation.

Woods also thanked her late husband, Jerry, her four children, as well as her six brothers and sisters, many of whom attended the event.

Montford Johnson
(1843-1896)

Montford Johnson was a Chickasaw cattleman and entrepreneur who overcame adversity to establish a ranching empire along the Chisholm Trail. He cared for his grandmother’s livestock and eventually accumulated his own. Johnson established ranches throughout what is now central Oklahoma after negotiating with the Plains tribes west of Chickasaw territory. He was a pioneer in the agriculture industry and had approximately 35,000 cattle across 1.3 million acres. Johnson was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in April 2020. A book, feature film and documentary based on his life have been made.

“Famed cattleman, Montford Johnson, had such a profound impact on our nation that his life has been memorialized in literature and on film,” Governor Anoatubby said. “Montford contributed greatly to the development of the Chickasaw Nation after Removal, and he and his family have a role in establishing two stores, a bank and eight towns in Oklahoma.

“For living a life that demonstrates our indelible Chickasaw warrior spirit and our traditions of diplomacy and overcoming adversity, tonight we’ve inducted the famed Montford Johnson into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame.”

Johnson’s great-great-grandchild Eddie Edwards accepted the award on behalf of the family.

“On behalf of the dozens of Johnson family members present tonight and the maybe hundreds of those who are not here, we wish to offer sincere thanks to Governor Anoatubby, Lt. Governor Anoatubby and Secretary of State Bill Lance, as well as the many people working to plan and host tonight’s event.

“The Johnson family has long understood and appreciated what a remarkable man Montford was.

“Shouldn’t we all be grateful for various members of our respective families who lived their lives over the past centuries in such a manner to allow each of us the opportunities that we experience every single day? Montford was an honest man, a good man and a decent man. Thank you for honoring the legacy of Montford Johnson.”

Janie Simms Hipp, J.D., LL.M., Fayetteville, Arkansas

Janie Simms Hipp has worked in agricultural law for nearly 40 years. As a First American, she was the first enrolled tribal citizen to serve as general counsel for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). She is also one of only four women to occupy that position since 1905. She received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Agricultural Law Association, the President’s Volunteer Service Award for Lifetime Achievement from U.S. President Barack Obama and the 2021 Congressional Hunger Center Trailblazer Hunger Leadership Award. Hipp currently serves as CEO and president of Native Agriculture Financial Services (NAFS).

“In many ways, the work of Janie Simms Hipp continues the tradition of law and order, and agriculture established by Montford Johnson,” Governor Anoatubby said. “Her years of dedicated work have greatly advanced the rights and interests of First American farmers.

“Janie’s path is a testament to the power of advocacy and a reminder of the deep ties to the land and traditions that sustain us. For her lifetime commitment to agriculture, food law and First American farmer advocacy, tonight we have inducted Janie Simms Hipp into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame.”

Hipp thanked Governor Anoatubby, her husband Mitch, son Jesse, and her entire family, co-workers and former co-workers.

“I’m the granddaughter of a proud Chickasaw Nation original enrollee Irene Spencer Simms,” Hipp said. “When I met her, she shared with me the book ‘The Chickasaws,’ and she had filled it with annotations and little notes in the corners of the page that reflected on her life as a proud Chickasaw woman.

“Years ago, I found myself at the office of (former Oklahoma) Attorney General Robert Henry, known for his unwavering support for tribal sovereignty. For me, he was the first person who started me on my path in agriculture law,” she said.

Hipp compared the 1980s farm crisis with Chickasaw Removal.

“We can never thank our ancestors enough for their unquenchable thirst for making sure that we, people they would never meet, had a home and enough to eat, and the opportunity for success.

The stories of the intertwining of Chickasaw leadership, and food and agriculture are a constant for the Chickasaw people and all First Americans,” Hipp said.

“None of us can be truly sovereign unless we pay attention to our food and agriculture. Without being able to feed ourselves and our families, we are lost.

“Thank you, again, Governor Anoatubby and the entire Chickasaw Nation, for this incredible honor. I will never be able to thank you enough, but I will live the rest of my days striving to do the right thing, speak out for those who feed us and ensure that our Chickasaw Nation and all First Americans are strong — growing and expanding our impact and ensuring our children and grandchildren are food sovereign, food secure and prepared to meet the challenges of tomorrow.”

William Joseph Wright, Davis, Oklahoma

In 1982, William Joseph Wright began working for the National Park Service (NPS) as a fee collector for the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. He also served in various roles at the Statue of Liberty National Memorial, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Independence National Historic Park, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Buffalo National River, Big Bend National Park, Everglades National Park and Grand Canyon National Park. Wright is the only person to serve as chief ranger at three major national parks. His final NPS position began in 2015 as the Chickasaw National Recreation Area superintendent. He retired in December 2022.

“William Joseph Wright has dedicated much of his life and career to serving and safeguarding our country’s national parks, including an area our forefathers put under federal protection to preserve for the future,” Governor Anoatubby said. “As superintendent of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, his work ensured the natural beauty of Sulphur’s springs are protected for future generations to enjoy. Bill’s journey underscores the importance of harmony with nature and the responsibility we bear in safeguarding our natural resources and living out the vision of our ancestors.

“For living a life in pursuit of our ancestor’s dream, and for protecting the lands that sustain us, Bill Wright has been inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame.”

Wright thanked Governor Anoatubby and Lt. Governor Chris Anoatubby, his wife Misty, family members, and the people of the Chickasaw Nation.

“I’m so honored, humbled beyond words and extremely grateful to be standing before you this evening to accept this honor,” Wright said.

“There have been numerous people on my journey that have helped me, elevated me, and picked me up and dusted me off when I needed it. So, this isn’t just about me. As they say, ‘it takes a village’ or a tribe. There are far too many to thank individually, but I am extremely thankful for them all.

“I’ve worked with numerous tribes over the course of my career, as every park in the National Park Service is affiliated with at least one tribe. As a Chickasaw, it filled me with pride to return home and see the Chickasaw Nation engaging with partners and communities in such a positive and constructive way. Thank you, Governor Anoatubby, for your leadership that has allowed the Chickasaw Nation to thrive,” he said.

“My professional journey began where it ended, at Chickasaw National Recreation Area. I came full circle and had the privilege to come home and finish my career. The opportunity to come back to my roots at Chickasaw National Recreation Area is a rare opportunity in the National Park Service. Returning gave me the chance to work with the Chickasaw Nation, and as a Chickasaw citizen that has been a phenomenal experience and privilege,” Wright said.

“We all face adversity and difficulties in life. It is how we respond to those that defines our character. The Chickasaw spirit is much the same. As a people we have grown and prospered through the trials and adversity we have faced and conquered. We are the unconquered and unconquerable Chickasaw Nation. I’ve learned that we must never forget who we are and where we came from. I’m very proud to be Chickasaw.”

Induction into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame is the highest honor bestowed upon citizens of the Chickasaw Nation.

To learn more about the 2024 Chickasaw Hall of Fame inductees and view the ceremony, visit HOF.Chickasaw.net.