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Native American Heritage honored at Peterson

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Team Pete played host to D.J. Eagle Bear Vanas, internationally-acclaimed motivational storyteller, as he spoke at the heritage event in honor of National Native American Heritage Month, Nov. 29 held at the base theater on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

Vanas, a tribally-enrolled member of the Odawa Nation and former Air Force officer, spoke some of his native tongue and taught the audience a few details of very important rituals that he had undergone as a veteran of traditional ceremonies, such as the Sun Dance. The Sun Dance is sacred ritual to the Plains Tribes where the men will spend four to eight days dancing and fasting from sun up to sun down. They give freely of themselves offering up prayers for the good of the tribe in a dance to symbolize rebirth and renewal for the world.

“My son, Chris, related to what he said about the Sun Dance as he’d danced this past summer with his grandfather,” said Tech. Sgt. Francis Dupris, a tribally-enrolled member of the Lakota Nation and head of the Peterson Native American Heritage committee. “Mr. Vanas said, ‘wow 13 years old and Sun Dancing, was it hard?,’ and my son said ‘yes’ making everyone laugh.”

Vanas also offered a personal viewpoint as he discussed the presence of Native Americans in today’s military. He pointed out that while Native Americans are one of the smallest minority groups represented in the military their presence is by no means minor in the grand scheme of things.

“In our Native culture, warriors served and defended our people,” said Vanas. “Today, they are those in uniform that protect our nation.”

According to the 2012 U.S. Census, while the overall population recorded as being nearly 1.4 percent American Indian, the military population was 1.7 percent Native. Making it the highest per-capita commitment of any ethnic population to defend the United States. There are currently 1,275 officers and 14,559 enlisted American Indian and Alaskan Natives in the military today, per the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute.

This commitment to service, no matter the branch is attributed to the heavy influence of the warrior ethos that has been a part of Native Culture from the beginning. Robert Holden, of Choctaw and Chickasaw descent, who is the deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians and head of veteran’s affairs for them, has stated that he believes that the strong tradition of warriors as leaders, both in war and peacetime, is one reason Natives continue to be drawn to military service.

“Even in those times of Vietnam, with the anti-war demonstrations, for veterans who returned to their own Native communities, there was not that kind of reception [they were welcomed home with honor],” said Holden. “It’s the warrior cultures. Warriors have always been in our presence and always will be, not only in times of conflict, but in times of peace as well. They became the leaders.”

The culture teaches their children from birth to serve, whether it be the clan, tribe, nation or country, the tradition is to serve an idea greater than themselves said Vanas.

Though much of the culture has been lost in last few centuries, including language, religion, and everyday rituals, tribes are working to hold onto and salvage what they can. The intent is for future generations to know the way of their people as more than just legends and stories from the history books.

The event was followed by a sampling of several native dishes including the popular Fry Bread, Bison Chili, Three Sisters Soup, and traditional Cherokee grape dumplings. All food was prepared and provided by the Native American Heritage committee members; Tech. Sgt. Francis Dupris, Ms. Debra Feldmann and Senior Airman Amber Grimm, a tribally-enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation.

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