Creates Native American Powwow to Honor Veterans
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service (1998)
"I come to a powwow to be an Indian, to get a sense of myself.
This is part of Indian spirituality, to help each other
and to celebrate with each other. When I come to pow wows,
I gain strength to carry on with my life." Rachel Snow,
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. Representatives
of nearly 100 tribes from more than 30 states and Canada
gathered here Nov. 7-8 to pay tribute to military veterans
during the second annual National Native American Veterans
"We hold the powwow to pay tribute to Native
Americans who put their lives at risk to ensure the survival
of future generations," said Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Shawn
Arnold, co-founder of the year-old Native American Veteran's
Pow Wow Committee, sponsor of the event.
Laura Campos of Rep.
Ed Pastor's Capitol Hill office, second left; Navy Lt.
Cmdr. Rod Hill, commander of the Navy element at the
Defense Information School, Fort Meade, Md.; and Army
Col. John S. Westwood, secretary of the Army representative,
were escorted on a "dance" around the arena after addressing
Arnold, a Navajo Indian, said that upon arriving
at Quantico Marine Base, Va., in September 1996, he found
little information about Native American activities in the
national capital region. That prompted him and his wife,
Shana, along with Sam Windy Boy, a native of the Chippewa
and Creek Rocky Boys Indian Reservation in Montana, to establish
the Native American Veteran's Powwow Committee to honor
active duty Native Americans and veterans.
"There are a lot of powwows that claim to
honor veterans, but their appearance is kept to a minimum,"
Arnold said. "We wanted to honor veterans during November
to coincide with DoD's American Indian and Alaska Native
Heritage Month and Veterans Day activities on the mall in
Arnold also pointed out the significance of
the powwow heritage and the connection between those ceremonies
and traditional Veterans Day observances.
"A long time ago," Arnold explained, 'powwows
were spiritual gatherings to cerebrate certain community
events or to honor somebody who had come back from war.
Tribes would hold a dance and people would sing songs that
reflected deeds done in a battle or songs carried down from
their ancestors when they were fighting, such as in the
American Indian wars."
"People came here at their own expense because
they want to honor their veterans, just as Indians have
honored their warriors throughout history," said Arnold,
noncommissioned officer in charge of operations at the Officers
Basic Course, Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Va.
Representatives from the military services,
the House and Senate and several veterans' organizations
participated in the powwow. Representing the Department
of Defense, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rod Hill told the gathering that
DoD' observance of Native American Heritage Month reaffirms
the country and armed forces' "commitment to acknowledging
Native American contributions and honoring the unique heritage
of this continent's first inhabitants."
Decked out in colorful
outfit with feather bustles, a performer does an elaborate,
fast-paced dance during the National Native American
Veterans Powwow in Upper Marlboro, Md.
"There's no question that many of you here
today, as well as your forefathers, helped build today's
unparalleled military force," said Hill, commander of the
Navy element at the Defense Information School, Fort Meade,
Md. "You have served with honor and distinction in every
major conflict throughout our history."
The services have recognized Native American
heroism in the past. According to Hill, the War Department
awarded two Medals of Honor, 51 Silver Stars, 34 Distinguished
Flying Crosses, 47 Bronze Stars and 71 Air Medals to Native
Americans during World War II.
Hill also said that the heritage month observance
provides the military the opportunity to remind service
members about such heroes as Billy Walkabout -- the most
decorated American Indian soldier of the Vietnam War
who earned the Distinguished Service Cross, five Silver
Stars and five Bronze Stars.
Historically, Native Americans have the highest
record of military service per capita when compared to other
ethnic groups. Today, there are nearly 190,000 American
Indians and Alaska Natives military veterans, according
to DoD statistics. Citing that statistic, Hill noted that
Native Americans today represent 1 percent of the Navy's
total strength, which equals about 4,700 men and women serving
on active duty and in the Reserves.
Speaking on the second day of the powwow and
providing an additional historical perspective, Marine Corps
Col. John D. LeHockey said, "During the American Revolution,
the Oneida and Tuscaroa nations, and members of the Six
Nations Confederacy, sided with the colonists. During the
Civil War, Indians fought on both sides, and, in 1898, they
joined Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders in the charge on San
Juan Hill. In World War I, 12,000 Indian men and women served,
and that number more than doubled in World War II to more
More than 10 percent of the Native American
population, or one-third of all able-bodied Indian men from
18 to 50 years of age saw service during World War II, said
LeHockey, commander of the Officer Candidates School at
Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
"In some tribes, the percentage of men in
the military reached nearly 70 per cent," he said. "Several
hundred Indian women also served with the Women's Army Corps,
the Navy's Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service
and Army Nurse Corps. Indian participation in World War
II was so extensive that it later became part of American
folklore and popular culture."
Korean War Army veteran
Ted Wood, 68, an Abenaki Indian, stands in front of
a group of veterans he led during grand entry ceremonies
at the National Native American Veterans Powwow in Upper
It also became part of Marine Corps legend,
particularly the Navajo code talkers, LeHockey said. For
Marines, he said, the battle for Iwo Jima was the "code
talkers" finest performance. The entire invasion was directed
by orders communicated in the Navajo code. During the first
48 hours, while American forces were landing and consolidating
their shore positions, six code-talker networks operated
around the clock, sending and receiving more than 800 critical
messages without error.
"The communications officer for the Fifth
Marine Division said, 'without the Navajos, the Marines
never would have taken Iwo Jima,'" LeHockey said. "He could
have just as easily said, 'without Native American Indians,
World War II might not have been won . . . ,' because not
incidentally, one of those flag raisers at Iwo was a Pima
Indian named Ira Hamilton Hayes."
It took more than 30 years for the Navajo
code talkers to be recognized for
their contributions to victory during World War II. It also
took more than 30 years for Native Americans to be honored
with a national memorial, LeHockey noted.
On Nov. 1, 1986, "the first national memorial
honoring Native American veterans was dedicated at Arlington
National Cemetery near the grave of Ira
Hayes," the colonel noted. "At the base of the memorial,
a cottonwood tree was planted as a living memorial to those
who served. A bronze plaque reads, "Dedicated to our Indian
warriors and their brothers who have served us so well .
. . the Vietnam Era Veterans . . . we are honored to remember
you . . . ."
The three founders
of the Native American Powwow Committee are, left to
right, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Shawn Arnold (Navajo),
Shana Arnold (Mono) and Sam Windy Boy (Chippewa/Creek).
Arnold also noted that powwows are social
gatherings were Native Americans come together to renew
old friendships and begin new ones. "It's a time for people
to move backwards and forward in time as old ways are melded
with new ways," he said. "It's a time for people to build
upon their rich heritage."
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