Women's Memorial Honors Native American Women
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 21, 2004 Ernest Wahtomy, a Shoshone-Bannock Indian, performed drumbeats and vocables while champion Indian dancers twirled during a special program Sept. 20 at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.
Nancy Nacki, left, of the Shoshone tribe from Fort Hall,
Idaho, chats with Ilka Hasselmeyer, right, of Buesum, Germany, and Annette
Meyer of Hildesheim, Germany, after the "Voices: Native American Women in the
U.S. Armed Forces" program at the Women in Military Service for America
Memorial. Nacki served as mistress of ceremonies during the special program
honoring Native American women in the armed forces at the Women's Memorial.
Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The program, titled "Voices: Native American Women in the U.S. Army Forces," highlighted the opening of a special exhibit Native American Women in the armed Forces. The Women's Memorial opened the exhibit to celebrate the dedication of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.
Thousands of Native Americans from across the country flocked to the nation's capital to celebrate today's opening of the long-awaited museum on Washington's National Mall.
Wahtomy's drumbeats and vocables, a word regarded as a unit of sounds, not meaning, echoed through the memorial theater as champion dancers of Shoshone- Bannock and Dakota-Maricopa heritage performed a variety of tribal dances, including powwow dancing and the men and women fancy dance, jingle dress dance, and grass dance.
Attendees were also treated to a sneak preview of the film, "Navajo Women Warriors: Sani Dez-Bah," a documentary about American Indian women's service in the armed forces. The film was co-produced by the Women's Memorial and ArtReach International.
One of the women in the film, Navajo Indian Angela Barney-Nez, said the most important thing about the film was "that we were able to tell that story ourselves. It wasn't an interpretation by somebody from the outside.
"The women that spoke in the film really spoke from the heart," said Barney- Nez, a former Army specialist five who was a transportation specialist at the end of the Vietnam War. "I think all of us that were in the film were first Navajo speakers before we learned English."
This marks the second phase of a two-part exhibit, which initially opened on Memorial Day 2003 with a special tribute to Operation Iraqi Freedom hero Army Spc. Lori Piestewa. Piestewa was a Hopi woman and the first known Native American military woman killed in battle.
Besides Piestewa, five other Native American women were featured, as well as a host of artifacts and memorabilia related to Native servicewomen. Phase II enhances the original exhibit with more women's stories, rare artifacts -- like a Creek servicewoman's World War II scrapbook -- and other unique items. The exhibit will be on display until the end of the year, according to memorial officials.
The program was a special treat for Ilka Hasselmeyer, of Buesum, Germany, and Annette Meyer of Hildesheim, Germany. Members of the Native American Association of Germany, the two women planned their vacation to the United States to coincide with the opening of the museum.
"I was positively surprised about the activities at the Women's Memorial," said Hasselmeyer, a marine biologist. "It was a very different experience to look at everything from the women's side. Our association does powwows with different dancing categories. What impressed me most were the grass dancers. Our grass dancers in Germany are not that good."
Hasselmeyer said the National Museum of the American Indian was long overdue. "They even had a little five-minute presentation about it on German TV," she noted. "I was really impressed by the thoughts behind it and that it was very carefully built and decorated."
Introducing Native American culture to the German public is the aim of the Native American Association of Germany, she explained. "We'd also like to be a place where Native Americans that are stationed in Germany can go and live their culture and also teach other people their culture (and) their differences," Hasselmeyer said.
"Most of the Native American members of our association are in the American Army or they're retired from the Army and are living in Germany," Hasselmeyer noted. The group's chairman, Lindbergh Namingha, is a Hopi Indian who joined the association when he was a military member stationed in Germany. Namingha married a German woman, and they moved back to Germany after his retirement, Hasselmeyer said.
Meyer said she has been interested in American Indian culture since she was 5 years old. Hasselmeyer said it was Meyer's lifelong dream to come to the United States. "Our visit coinciding with the opening of the museum is a special treat for both of us," she said.
Nancy Nacki, of the Shoshone tribe from Fort Hall, Idaho, served as the mistress of ceremonies. "As this country is based on prayers and visions, the outfits we're wearing were visions of the people who prepared them for us," Nacki said. "The people who prepared them for us had visions of us and prayers to continue on the ways of our ancestors and our people.
"The creator created people different all over the world," she continued. "He gave each group of people a glory that sets us apart and makes us different from the next tribe or people."
Her daughter, Hovia Edwards, played the flute during the program. Edwards is the youngest recording flute player in the country, according to her mother. "She played during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics at Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2001," said Nacki.