John Gritts Selected as NIEA Elder of the Year

Feb 23rd, 2011 | By | Category: 22-3: Food Sovereignty, Spring 2011, Tribal College News

ELDER OF THE YEAR. John Gritts said he was surprised and delighted to receive recognition from the National Indian Education Association. Photo by Amy Martin

The National Indian Education Association (NIEA) selected John Gritts (Cherokee) as the male Elder of the Year at its annual meeting in San Diego in October 2010. After working in Indian education for nearly 40 years, Gritts is well known in the tribal college community. He worked at Black Hills State University from 1973 until 1997 and then for the American Indian College Fund for nine years starting in 1997. After that he worked for two years at the Institute for American Indian Arts.

Charitina Fritzler nominated him, saying, “Dear Big John has been a humble old soul within ever since I have known him – a young man with an elder’s heart…. Since his ponytail turned silver, he’s finally old enough to nominate as an elder.” In his letter, Rick Waters said, “John possesses the wisdom, compassion, and understanding of a long life dedicated to helping others.”

David Cournoyer said that through the years, Gritts has helped hundreds if not thousands of Indian students navigate the “impossibly complicated” financial aid system. He says, “John is every student’s Indian uncle – a caring individual and role model, a smart and skilled bureaucrat who isn’t fazed by red tape, and a fine storyteller with a great sense of humor.”

Presently Gritts works for the Department of Education Federal Student Aid, Denver Regional Office, which he considers the fitting culmination of his career. He is able to use all that he has learned to help the tribal colleges administer their Federal Student Aid, he says.

Gritts, 62, has three sons who attended (and graduated) or are attending Salish Kootenai College.

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