News: JBLM celebrates Native American Heritage Month with luncheon
Story by Staff Sgt. Bryan Lewis
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - The 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, along with I Corps and the JBLM Equal Opportunity Staff Office, hosted the 2010 National Native American Heritage Month observance lunch at the American Lake Community Club Nov. 16.
National Native American Heritage Month, now in its 20th year, was first observed in 1990 by Presidential Proclamation issued by former President George H.W. Bush.
This year’s observance accented the warrior aspect of the Native American culture through several members of the Native American community. The event guest speaker, Dr. Barney Old Coyote Jr., delivered a speech about his military service while Gene Tagaban, a performing artist storyteller, put on a traditional dance and story display, and artist John Romero displayed various tribal paintings.
Barney, who enlisted with his brother Henry in the Army Air Corps the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, became the most decorated Native American in World War II.
“I find myself a little in awe to see all you young people here, particularly those of you in uniform, and I find myself thinking back to some of the great times that I’ve enjoyed in my lifetime,” Barney stated at the beginning of his speech.
Adorned in a traditional head dress, Barney addressed the room overflowing with soldiers, civilians and family members. He shared the story on how and why he and his brother joined the military.
Following in the footsteps of their grandfather, who was in the U.S. Cavalry, Barney and Henry joined the military to protect their land and their country.
Barney said his grandfather was the first person in their tribe to serve in the military in order to protect their land and the United States.
Barney and Henry fought side-by-side as Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress gunners for more than 50 missions in Belgium, Germany and France during World War II. As part of their service, they used Crow language to break radio silence and get messages past the Axis code breakers.
The Crow language Barney and Henry used while fighting in Europe differed from the Navajo “Wind Talkers” used in the Pacific theater during World War II. The Wind Talkers were a unique group of Native Americans employed by the Marines who used their native language to translate messages in military terms as a form of encryption. The native code was never broken.
Native American soldiers in today’s military look to carry on the traditions of those who served before them.
“I’m in awe of the people who served before me. My tribe takes great pride in their numbers,” said Staff Sgt. Misty Jackson, a Native American soldier and Equal Opportunity leader for Madigan Army Medical Center.
“They (Jackson’s tribe) have a Warrior Wall that lists names and places in the tribe, so seeing all the way back to the 1800s some of the soldiers, airmen and other veterans who had gone before me is a great honor,” said Jackson, a Chippewa Indian from Bad River, Wis.
Pride and respect was a two-way road at the observance lunch, displayed through Tagaban’s traditional story and dance along with Romero’s paintings. Romero served in the Navy during the Vietnam War.
“The thing is, in native protocol, we always take the time to honor the veterans as warriors. Even in my performances, I always take that time to acknowledge our veterans,” said Tagaban, whose tribal name is Crazy Raven.
At the end of the guest speakers’ presentations, Lt. Col. Roy Robbings, the 201st BfSB commander, presented each one with a token of appreciation and invited all in attendance to partake in traditional Native American food sampling. The food consisted of fried corn, Navajo rice, fry bread and wojape (wo-ja-pea), which is a pudding of mashed, cooked berries.
As people left the observance, they stopped by to look at educational displays of books and flyers along with Romero’s paintings.
Native American Heritage Day is observed Nov. 26.