“I don’t think there’s anybody more deserving of this award who’s had an effect on this tribe — not only her, but her family, her children and the legacy,” said Councilmember Perry Shell, of Big Cove, which is Swimmer’s community.
Born Oct. 7, 1921, on the Qualla Boundary, Swimmer is the mother of 10, grandmother of 22, great-grandmother of 41 and great-great-grandmother of nine.
She demonstrated pottery making at the Oconaluftee Indian Village for more than 50 years, volunteered in Cherokee’s middle and elementary schools teaching pottery and has won many awards for her work, which is on display in North Carolina, Washington, D.C., and New Mexico.
She won the N.C. Heritage Award in 1994, the Mountain Heritage Award in 2009 and was granted an honorary doctorate from the University of North Carolina Asheville in 2005.
Swimmer has also invested heavily in Cherokee children, serving as a foster grandparent for 20 years, in which capacity she spent time with daycare-age children, telling them stories and singing in Cherokee.
“All that explains everything, why she deserves this award and this honor,” said Councilmember Richard French, of Big Cove, who submitted the resolution, after the list of accomplishments was read.
Swimmer, surrounded by family, approached the podium to offer her thanks to Tribal Council.
“Thank you for bringing me up here just to look at my ugly face,” she said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
“I’ve got a whole bunch of grandchildren,” she continued. “There’s one right there, about 2,000 more somewhere.”
Laughter rippled through the room one more time before Swimmer continued on a more serious note, offering her best advice to Tribal Council.
“Do the right thing that you should do for the people,” she told councilmembers. “Put the Lord first in everything you do. Don’t leave him out. He’s going to show you what you have to do. He showed me many times, and he’s in my heart.”
Swimmer concluded by offering council a prayer in the Cherokee language, with her family then surrounding her for a series of photos to celebrate the joyful event.
The list of Beloved Women is a short one, and the list of living Beloved Women is even shorter. Swimmer is now the third living Beloved Woman, joined by Myrtle Driver and Ella Bird. The last person named Beloved Woman was Shirley Oswalt, in 2017. Oswalt has since passed away from cancer.
The tribe also has two living Beloved Men — Jerry Wolfe, who was given the title in 2013, and Robert Standingdeer, given the title last month.