Ethel Cook was a remarkable leader who brought people together through her work as a corporate trainer and as the chief of the Ottawa Tribe. She led the northeast Oklahoma tribe for 12 years until her death at the age of 72.
Cook grew up in Miami, Oklahoma, where Ottawa families were relocated in 1867. Her great-grandfather had served as chief of the tribe during that time. Cook began her career in telecommunications and eventually worked her way up to become a trainer.
After retiring, Cook and her husband returned to Miami in 2003 to take care of their aging parents. She became more involved in leadership roles within the tribe, including serving on the gaming commission. She was elected as chief in 2011 and was reelected four times.
During her time in office, Cook worked to expand the tribe’s economic base beyond gaming. She oversaw the opening of gas stations and a restaurant on Route 66 in Miami, contributing to the tribe’s economic growth. Cook was dedicated to improving the lives of tribal members and the surrounding community.
Cook strongly believed in collaboration and referred to it as a “united front.” She took an active role in supporting local schools, charities, and community groups. Cook was recognized for her achievements with various awards, including a surprise honor from the local chamber in 2021.
She also emphasized the importance of working closely with other tribes in the county. Cook believed in making sure the Ottawa Tribe was at the forefront of community efforts. She played a key role in joint tribal projects, including the development of criminal justice systems following the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling.
Even while battling acute myeloid leukemia and receiving hospice care, Cook continued to work on tribal issues and projects. She had a vision for the tribe’s future, including expanding into manufacturing. The tribe recently broke ground on a new hotel and RV park.
Cook’s legacy lives on through the work she accomplished and the projects she initiated. She is survived by her husband, daughter, and grandchildren. A graveside service will be held to honor her contributions and leadership.