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White House Breakfast Honors American Indian Servicemembers

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2004 – President Bush took time out today to honor those to whom the newest Smithsonian Institution museum is dedicated.

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Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado makes opening remarks at the White House breakfast in honor of the National Museum of the American Indian today. Campbell's father was a Northern Cheyenne Indian. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley, AFPS
  

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He praised the contributions of American Indians, both military and civilian, from Sacagawea's presence with Lewis and Clark to the Code Talkers of World War II.

"The National Museum of the American Indian affirms that you and your tribal governments are strong and vital today and provides a place to celebrate your present achievements and your deepest hopes for the future," the president said from the East Room of the White House.

"Native Americans have supported this country during its times of need, and their contributions have made America stronger and better," Bush said. "I want to thank the Indian members of our United States military for joining us today," said he added, acknowledging the 17 servicemembers in attendance.

What happened next surprised Air Force Master Sgt. Layne Berryhill and Air Force Staff Sgt. Jamey Kennedy. The crowd stood to applaud them and their fellow servicemembers. Though Berryhill, of Creek Indian descent, doesn't think of himself as an American Indian servicemember, he said he was pleased all the same.

"It does honor me when (servicemembers) are recognized in such an event like this," said Berryhill, who is assigned to the Air Force Legal Services Agency at Bolling Air Force Base here. "For our fellow American Indians what they did in there with the standing ovation that was probably the greatest honor I've had. You want to talk about honoring the country; they honor me."

Kennedy, who is also stationed at Bolling with the 11th Communications Squadron, echoed Berryhill's sentiment. "To be able to come here to the White House (is) just an honor to me," Kennedy said. "It's like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It blows me away."

Though neither Berryhill nor Kennedy had visited the museum, both were proud of it and impressed by the attention to detail, including the fact that the entrance faces east in accordance with Indian tradition.

"I thought the design and the emphasis got into it to try and capture the culture. I thought that was the right thing to do -- from the little things to the big things," Berryhill said. "Only seeing it online, the fact that they represented the hemispheres and the different levels of cultures, I think is the probably the best part of what they've done."

That corporate America was not involved was important to Berryhill as well. "They didn't incorporate big companies to do this, this is all done by Americans that have Indian heritage. They said, 'OK. We're going to use the people that it means the most to to design it.'"

Kennedy, of Cherokee Indian descent, said he is pleased that American Indians, are being acknowledged through the museum.

"It just makes me proud of the fact that we're being honored by the president and Americans," Kennedy said. "For so long, we haven't been recognized as a people. And to finally be recognized as Native Americans and (have the affirmation) that we actually do have a place, it really touches you and it's really heartfelt. It just makes me feel so proud."

The museum, which opened to the public Sept. 21, houses some 8,000 artifacts that represent Western Hemisphere Indian tribes from the Arctic Circle to the tip of South America. Fifteen years in the making, the building, located next to the Air and Space Museum on the National Mall, comes with a price tag of $199 million. Thirty percent of the museum's staff is of American Indian descent.

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Related Sites:
National Museum of the American Indian
Transcript of President Remarks on Honoring National Museum of the American Indian

Click photo for screen-resolution imageServicemembers attending the White House breakfast in honor of the National Museum of the American Indian await the arrival of President and Mrs. Bush in the East Room of the White House today. Standing behind them, the Cherokee National Youth Choir sang the National Anthem in Cherokee and English. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley, AFPS  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSeventeen American Indian servicemembers attending the White House breakfast in honor of the National Museum of the American Indian received a standing ovation when President Bush recognized them for their service during remarks in the East Room of the White House today. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley, AFPS  
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