By Lani Hansen/Reporter
The recipients share their story and reactions
PHOENIX, Arizona– Three Muscogee (Creek) citizens received the 2019 National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development Native American 40 under 40 awards.
Ayla Medrano, Cynthia Billy and Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk were awarded on Aug. 24 at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix, AZ.
According to the NCAIED website, each year the center recognizes 40 emerging Native American and Alaska Native leaders under the age of 40 who have demonstrated leadership, initiative, and dedication and made significant contributions in business, professions and communities.
Medrano is the Executive Director of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce (AICCO), out of Oklahoma City.
In 2017-2018, she worked for the Oklahoma City Muscogee Creek Association (OCMA) and became the manager for Creative Circle Gift Shop & Gallery until it recently shut down. This opened her up to working with the chamber and getting her involved with Indian Country.
In 2018 she got heavily involved with the chamber and participated in the Leadership Native Oklahoma (LNO). Last year, she served as Vice President for the chamber of Oklahoma City chapter. It was not until the end of 2018 when she became President because the one serving stepped down. With some rule changes in April 2019 she became the Executive Director.
“It was shocking when I was named 40 under 40,” Medrano said. “I was sitting at our LNO 2019 session for the month of August, and our current President Tonya and another participant Chad broke it to me.”
Billy is the Executive and Economic Development Director for the Wichita Tribe Industrial Development Commission out of Elgin.
Billy is of the Nokosulke “Bear” clan and her tribal town is Tuskegee. She currently resides in Elgin, OK with her family, Nathan, Nacona, Helena, Joseph and Sophia. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Oklahoma and is certified in LEAN/Six Sigma.
She has supported Indian Country for over fifteen years and currently serves the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes in Anadarko, OK. She is passionate about building up economic opportunity and is invested in the empowerment and future development of Native youth and Tribal communities. She dedicates her time to helping tribal families in both her professional and personal life. She serves on several committees and collective impact coalitions in her community.
“I felt a sense of gratitude and honored to receive the 40 under 40,” Billy said. “By being recognized for all of our hard work it means a lot, the common thread that we all have is that were serving our tribal community.”
Echo-Hawk is serving as the Resource Development Coordinator for the Pawnee Seed Preservation Project and Birth Doula out of Pawnee. She is the daughter of Creek Nation citizen Marsha Chapman (Jones).
In 2018 she ran for a legislative seat in the Oklahoma State House District 35, although not getting the seat it was an eye-opening experience. Echo-Hawk is a graduate of OSU with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies, focused on Native American Studies and Gender and Women Studies.
She has been organizing marathon relay teams with Native women, and why they wear ribbon skirts to raise awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. She coordinated these runs 3 years ago starting at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.
“I was humbled to receive the award,” Echo-Hawk said. “The care work I do is not given the recognition or the pay it deserves. I appreciate the organization NCAIED because I think they are needed with respect for Indian Country.”