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News | Nov. 30, 2018

Distribution headquarters celebrates Native American heritage

By Brianne M. Bender DLA Distribution Public Affairs

DLA Distribution’s Multicultural Committee celebrated the heritage of Native Americans with a program held on Wednesday, Nov. 28. This year’s theme is “Sovereignty, Trust and Resilience.”

The program started with David “WhiteHawk” Birtch, who is of Shawnee ancestry, performing the National Anthem in Cherokee. Following the National Anthem, Michelle “SoaringHawk” Fry, who is a member of the Nulhegan Band of Coosuk Abenaki Nation, provided the invocation in Shawnee before translating in English.

DLA Distribution commanding officer Navy Rear Adm. Kevin M. Jones welcomed everyone in attendance “This program is an outstanding effort by the Distribution Multicultural Committee, and a very unique experience.”

Jones gave a brief overview of the history of National American Indian Heritage Month. Additionally, he spoke about James Williams, a Cherokee Indian and United States Navy chief boatswain's mate who was awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. Williams was one of 32 Native Americans to receive the medal and is considered to be the most decorated enlisted man in the history of the Navy.

After being welcomed back to the stage by Jones, Birtch spoke about the long tradition of Native Americans and their contributions to the Department of Defense.

“For more than 200 years Native Americans have been assisting the United States. Ben Franklin recognized that the concept of the constitution came from the Iroquois Nation,” said Birtch.

Native Americans, known as the Indian Scouts have made up an integral part of U.S. military since America's beginning. Colonists recruited Indian allies during the Revolutionary War, as well as in the War of 1812. They fought on both sides during the American Civil War, as well as military missions abroad in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and modern day conflicts in the Middle East.

The Indian Scouts were active in the American West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including those who accompanied Army Gen. John J. Pershing in 1916 on his expedition to Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa. Indian Scouts were officially deactivated in 1947 when their last member retired from the Army at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. For many Indians it was an important form of interaction with white American culture and their first major encounter with the whites' way of thinking and doing things.

“The Native American culture is filled with values which drive them to serve. Strength, honor, pride, devotion and wisdom come together to create a proud warrior tradition which makes them perfect for military service,” explained Birtch.

By the end of the 20th century there were more than 190,000 Native American military veterans.

Birtch went on to explain that military service provided Native Americans an outlet to fulfill their cultural traditions. “Service to this country provided Native Americans with wisdom, education, and job skills. Because there were no ‘all Indian’ unites, military service allowed for the cultures to learn about each other. It broke through stereotypes.”

In the end, Birtch explained “We are all Native Americans, born here – this is why we fight so hard for this land.”

Birtch ended his remarks by stating in Cherokee, “Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ,” which translates to “we are all related.”

Following Birtch’s remarks, the Sunrise Dancers and Singers performed five traditional Native American dances for the headquarters audience: The Shawnee Clearing Song, the Straight Dance, the Grass Dance, a Women’s Traditional Dance and a Couple’s Dance.