Veterans Celebrate National Native American Heritage Month

By Shannon Collins, DoDNews Features

In a proclamation, President Barack Obama said November is National Native American Heritage Month in honor of American Indians and Alaska Natives from hundreds of tribes who have shaped our national life. He said their spirit and many contributions continue to enrich our communities and strengthen our country. During this heritage month, we honor their legacy.

Tony LittleHawk, Cherokee Tribe member, Native American Veterans Association Spiritual Advisor and Sun Walker, and a Vietnam veteran from Marshall, Texas, performs aa spiritual cleaning and prayer during the Native American Veterans Association's Annual Veterans Appreciation and Heritage Day Pow Wow in South Gate, California, Nov. 8th and 9th. More than 4,000 veterans represented their tribes and their respective military branches with inter-tribal music, dancing, arts and crafts and storytelling during the two-day event. (Department of Defense Photo by Marvin Lynchard)

Tony LittleHawk, Cherokee Tribe member, Native American Veterans Association Spiritual Advisor and Sun Walker, and a Vietnam veteran from Marshall, Texas, performs aa spiritual cleaning and prayer during the Native American Veterans Association’s Annual Veterans Appreciation and Heritage Day Pow Wow in South Gate, California, Nov. 8th and 9th. More than 4,000 veterans represented their tribes and their respective military branches with inter-tribal music, dancing, arts and crafts and storytelling during the two-day event. (Department of Defense Photo by Marvin Lynchard)

I had the honor of attending the Native American Veteran’s Association’s Annual Veteran’s Appreciation and Heritage Day Pow Wow in South Gate, California, Nov. 8 and 9. The morning began for me with the smell of white sage, a warm sun and the gentle touch of an eagle wing as a decorated Vietnam veteran and spiritual advisor from the Cherokee Tribe named Tony LittleHawk blessed a few of us before the Pow Wow officially began.

I had been to a few Pow Wows before and enjoyed the dancing, colorful regalia during the intertribal dancing, the arts and crafts and the beautiful sound of the singing along with the steady beat of the drums and  flow of the pipe music but I had never seen so many veterans at a Pow Wow before.

Veterans from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom were welcomed into the ceremonial circle during the Veteran's Roll Call at the Native American Veterans Association's Annual Veterans Appreciation and Heritage Day Pow Wow in South Gate, Calif., Nov. 8th and 9th.  More than 4,000 veterans represented their tribes and their respective military branches with inter-tribal music, dancing, arts and crafts and storytelling during the two-day event. (Department of Defense Photo by Marvin Lynchard)

(Department of Defense Photo by Marvin Lynchard)

Each U.S. military service branch was represented at the event, along with most of the major conflicts as during the veteran roll call, each Native American veteran cited his former military branch, which conflict he served in and his tribe. Veterans who were not of Native American descent were welcomed with open arms into the community as well. I spoke with veterans who had served in World War II, Vietnam, and in the war I’m a veteran of, Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Throughout the two-day event, the uniqueness of this Pow Wow was the integration of the Native American Heritage with the veteran way of life. The members welcomed me with open arms, shared their stories and told me of how Native American heritage is not a race or ethnicity. It is a way of life. It was more than just the ceremonies, the arts and crafts and the music. For the veterans, they said the Pow Wow is a chance for them to honor their heritage, a deep spiritual connection with the land, family and their tribal history, and a therapeutic process because they can connect with other veterans and share stories and resources.

As the sun set on the second day of the event and the drums were silenced, I left the Pow Wow with a better appreciation of the Native American heritage and culture as well as a greater respect for those who have fought for the U.S. since it began and continue to fight for my country.

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Veterans Celebrate National Native American Heritage Month