- Ada, Oklahoma

Local News

May 11, 2014

Love, laughter and tradition link three generations

Honoring Ada's mothers and grandmothers

Ada — It all starts in this Native American family with a straight-faced, dark-haired matriarch named JoAnn Ellis.

“I’m the head honcho,” she said as the Mother’s Day interview was about to begin. Eventually, she can’t keep from smiling. She sets the tone for a family that likes to have fun.

Two things you learn quickly about this family. They love and respect their mothers and their grandmother.

They laugh and tease each other, too. A lot.

JoAnn won’t tell the reporter her age — after all, it is none of his business. Her daughter Johnna follows her mom’s advice and also refuses to tell her age.

That’s their traditional side, and so is this: JoAnn is a language specialist for the Chickasaw Nation’s Language Department and an adjunct professor teaching the Chickasaw language at East Central University (ECU).

 JoAnn taught all of her children to speak Chickasaw at the same time they were learning English.

“We usually start out with quite a few students, and then they start dropping out because they think it’s too hard,” JoAnn said of some of her ECU students.

No proverbial chips seem to hang on anybody’s shoulders in this family. They display no nagging parents or grandparents or children either.

 Communication, compared to most families, is off the charts. It’s a religious family where everyone feels free to say what’s on their mind. Respectfully, of course.

  “We just love to have fun,” says JoAnn. Her daughter and granddaughter tease her about looking for the right guy to marry and she plays along.

 “He would have to be rich and successful,” JoAnn says.

 That’s a given. What else?

“I don’t want him to be ugly,” she said.

 Ask Johnna if her kids always make straight A’s, or better still, if they ever make C’s on their report cards.

 “A what?” teases Johnna.

 Johnna sums up a family strategy that works just about every time a family gives it a chance.

 “I just think when you raise your children in a godly home with lots of love, it all comes back to you,” she said.

 As a mother of three, she’s a typical modern-day career mom, having raised her children with the help of nannies. But even then, those nannies were relatives; one of them being her late mother-in-law Sally Walker, who watched her children until they were in school. Even after they started school, the kids rode the bus back to Sally’s home, where they stayed until their parents got off work.

“I loved her (Sally) like my own mother, and I miss her dearly,” Johnna said, speaking of Sally’s death. “This will be our first Mother’s Day without her.”

 Johnna also has twin brothers, age 34.

 “I like to tell them I’m the same age they are,” she joked. She also has an older brother, who she says is 40.

 It’s an all-female gathering on this day. That might be a good thing if the guys were using their time wisely and buying some Mother’s Day cards.

 Johnna and Darrell Walker were married 24 years ago this August. She was a Chickasaw princess in those days. Together they created the two more princesses.

 Here’s the princess rundown in the Walker family:

  Johnna: Chickasaw Princess

  Alexis: Little Miss Chickasaw and Junior Miss Chickasaw

 Nacobi: Junior Miss Chickasaw and Chickasaw Princess

 Some traditions are hard to break.

 Since this is a Mother’s Day story, the guys were left out of this article. They are doing well in their lives, but let’s face it, they’ll never be princesses.

 The Walkers’ third child is a boy named Dylan, who is a 15-year-old student in the Ada school system.

 “Oh my gosh, Dylan is so smart,” said Nacobi, who’s on her own now.

 “Oh yeah, he’s a genius,” says Alexis.  

 Both sisters seem proud and a little envious of their sibling’s intellectual prowess.

 Where did he get his brains, the girls were asked.

 “From his mother,” said Dylan’s mother, Johnna, with a quick smile.

 Nobody argued this point either.

 Johnna was valedictorian of her senior class at Tupelo High. Today, she’s the executive director of the Chickasaw Foundation.

 She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in teaching and has several hours of work completed toward a master’s degree.

 Success starts early and continues throughout life in this family. Which leads to the question, why do some families do everything right and others everything wrong?

 “We were raised in the church,” said Nacobi. “We never had family problems to deal with. We all just love each other, and we also have a lot of fun.”

 Johnna was a forward on one of the last six-girl basketball teams at Tupelo.

 Naturally, the team went to state two years in a row during her playing days. The 1992 Tupelo boys won the state championship and Johnna was gracious enough to give them their due — even on Mother’s Day.

 Nacobi works for the Chickasaw Nation Child Development Center and she’s enrolled at ECU. She’s learning a lot about toddlers, not the least of which is that child care is hard work.

 Ever the dancer, she’s also on the ECU pom squad.

 Alexis may be best known as the left fielder on the Ada High Lady Cougars softball team.

 Nacobi once won state for her dancing skills when Ada was a 5-A school. That couldn’t have hurt when she was qualifying for the pom squad at ECU.

  There’s not a bad apple in the bunch.

 Alexis — the middle child — may be the wittiest of the family. She’s a character, loaded with self-confidence, and she speaks her mind. She can go from a moment of serious reflection to a one-liner that has everyone laughing seconds later.

 Like her older sibling, Alexis loves her mom, even when it’s not Mother’s Day. Like her older sister and her mother, she has carried the Chickasaw princess titles.

  She says she’s thinking about possibly becoming a journalist someday.

 Then she switches majors a minute later — as all high school juniors should — and talks seriously about becoming a speech pathologist.

“I feel it would be an opportunity to help others,” she said with dead earnest passion. “A lot of kids in Oklahoma struggle with speech problems. If they can overcome that, it helps them so much with their self-confidence,” Alexis said.

 “She’s my vocal child,” said her mother.

 Alexis then volunteers that she has a boyfriend, who is way off in Enid attending Northern College and living in nearby Orlando, a whole two-and-a-half hours away.

 His name, please?

 “J.D. Cameron.

“Do you want to know what the initials stand for?” she asks.


 “Jefferson Dean.”

  Finally, both daughters have their own iPhones, which they paid for with their own money, so don’t start!

 Chokma´shki — Thank you.


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