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‘I am a Native American Airman’

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.- Tech. Sgt. Francis Eagle Tail Dupris, a Cryptologic Service Group strategic threat analyst at North American Aerospace Defense Command/U.S. Northern Command, holds a special stick used to carry a prayer with her across the world in the traditional Lakota style, at Peterson Air Force Base, Nov. 21, 2016. Ordinarily, a special prayer bag, holding sage smudged tobacco, would be tied around a tree, but Dupris has deployed to deserts and barren places without trees and uses the stick as an alternative to uphold her native traditions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Amber Grimm)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.- Tech. Sgt. Frances Eagle Tail Dupris, a Cryptologic Service Group strategic threat analyst at North American Aerospace Defense Command/U.S. Northern Command, holds a prayer stick used to carry a prayer with her across the world in the traditional Lakota style, at Peterson Air Force Base, Nov. 21, 2016. Ordinarily, a special prayer bag, holding sage smudged tobacco, would be tied around a tree, but Dupris has deployed to deserts and barren places without trees and uses the stick as an alternative to uphold her native traditions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Amber Grimm)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

Having grown up in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota Tech. Sgt. Frances Eagle Tail Dupris, a Cryptologic Service Group strategic threat analyst at North American Aerospace Defense Command/U.S. Northern Command, shares her story of staying true to her heritage while serving as an Airman.

A tribally-enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Nation, she was born to a mother of Arapaho and Lakota descent and a father who is full blooded Lakota. Dupris can claim being as much as three quarters Native American.

She grew up a child of two worlds, living in modern America but taught to honor the ways of her ancestors. Even something as basic as how she prayed was split between these worlds attending church but still going up into the sacred Black Hills with her grandfather to place small bags of tobacco smudged with sage as they offered up prayers to the Creator. Her great-grandfather was full blooded Lakota and he practiced the traditional ways of praying, while her great-grandmother was taught Christianity in the boarding schools.

“Every morning my great-grandparents would pray in their own ways, my great-grandfather would sit at the kitchen table singing in Lakota with his turtle shell rattle,” said Dupris. “My great-grandmother would be there praying in English with hands folded. She would look over at my great-grandfather and just shake her head in disapproval like, ‘you’re doing it wrong,’ and he would look back at her and smile.”

Living in her grandmother’s home, surrounded by most of her cousins, Dupris would listen to her grandmother and great-grandmother speaking to each other in the flowing language of the Lakota’s. She picked up what she could here and there but was never taught her native language.

“My grandmother and great-grandmother indirectly taught us Lakota, as they would consistently speak it to each other on a daily basis - listening to them as a child I thought to myself 'what a beautiful language'.  At that moment, as an elementary student I decided to make a "book" of Lakota words which was really paper stapled together, and my grandmother helped" - Dupris Said. “It wasn’t until later in my life I learned my great-grandmother, was part of the generations that were taken away and sent to Christian boarding schools. There she was taught Christianity and slapped in the mouth when she would speak her own language. I believe that it may have been ingrained in my grandmother's mind to not allow her children or grandchildren to go through ridicule for not learning English as primary language” - Dupris said.  As an adult, "I asked my grandmother about our language and she laughed a nervous kind of laugh - because I knew my grandmother very well, I felt at that point it was a touchy subject; therefore, I never asked her that question again."

She has taken it upon herself to learn more of her native tongue, stating that a few of her cousins had learned on their own. A lot of Native tribes are working to reclaim elements of their lost cultures, including the religious practices, every day rituals and languages.

“I had thought of it as a dying language but it’s out there to learn,” said Dupris. “We can teach ourselves. My father learned Lakota on his own and when he talks to the elders they’ve jokingly told him he speaks better Lakota than they do.”

It was actually her father that encouraged her to join the Air Force.

“My dad wanted the best for me,” said Dupris. “He told me to join the Air Force and I’m glad he did. I’m glad that I get to serve my country and that I’m part of being in the military. I know that there have been indigenous people that served our country before they were even accepted as citizens, they died for this country.”

Though they were not made citizens until 1924 and not given full rights of citizenship in all states until 1948, Natives could still be found signing up to fight for America even while being exempt from the draft during the first World War. The Warrior culture of the tribes has not dimmed throughout the years and brings great respect. Dupris is proud that Native Americans have been fighting and serving before, during and after America became a country as Militia, Indian Scouts and Code Talkers.

She was honored in ceremony with a white plume eagle feather from her grandmother for her service in the military, an eagle feather being the highest honor a Native American can earn.

Being in the military has afforded Dupris the opportunity to pass on all the knowledge that she’s learned of the world and her own people to her children. She works to provide them with a better understanding of where they come from while teaching them what they can accomplish in their own lives.

“While I know what this country was built on, now it’s a new world, I think we’re at a time of change and my children will be a part of that,” said Dupris. “I’m very proud to be Native American even though we have had a rough history, I still feel my ancestor’s blood pumping through my veins. I’ve just got to keep making them proud, make this a better world for everybody - Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ [all my relatives].”
 

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui