COLUMBUS, Ohio –
Defense Supply Center Columbus hosted an event to celebrate the heritage and legacy of American Indians in Ohio and throughout the nation.
The Nov. 30 presentation inside the installation Operations Center auditorium brought together members of the Defense Federal Community to learn history, sample traditional food items, and listen to cultural ambassadors from the Native American community.
“Kúhaʔahat. Háht’aybáws ah.”
Stacey Halfmoon says it’s important to her to speak the language of the Caddo Nation – the American Indian tribe of her ancestors – to keep the language alive and honor its history. The traditional Caddo greeting means “Hello. How are you?”
Halfmoon, the director of American Indian Relations for the Ohio History Connection, shared her story during the annual program as the event’s keynote speaker.
“I hope by sharing some of my background and story today, you may see it as a microcosm of a broader story for the many indigenous peoples of this land and this country,” she said.
Halfmoon worked with the Caddo Nation for more than 10 years developing and promoting relationships between the tribal entity and federal, state, and educational agencies in the four state area of the Caddo homeland – Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Her experience with Native American issues and government relations led to a position in the U.S. Department of Defense.
She served on assignment to the DoD’s Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program and was in Washington D.C. as events unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001. Halfmoon said witnessing the response to the plane crash at the Pentagon gave her a deeper respect for the men and women who serve this nation.
“As I saw people running away from the building, I also saw first responders, medics, military personnel and others rushing towards the chaos,” she said. “It was a reminder to me what it truly means to serve your country.” Despite receiving the following day off work, Halfmoon said she and the majority of her DoD colleagues reported for duty on Sept. 12.
“We could’ve stayed home that day but instead we chose to come to work – because our country needed us,” she said.
Halfmoon’s commitment to service is common in the American Indian community.
American Indians represent the highest population per capita of any ethnic group serving in the military, and make up one percent of the DoD federal workforce.
During his opening remarks at the event, Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime’s Chief of Staff Griffin Warren reaffirmed the agency’s appreciation for that service.
“Each November, we come together to honor the history and cultural traditions of America’s indigenous peoples,” Warren said. “We remember the sacrifice that American Indians and Alaska Natives have made in defense of our nation. And we renew our nation’s enduring promise to respect tribal sovereignty and self-determination, and to build healthy, safe and sustainable tribal communities.
Currently, there are 567 federally recognized tribes and more than 100 state recognized tribes across the United States. Each has their own unique history, belief system, governance structure and culture.
The presentation highlighted the uniqueness of those communities, but also recognized some shared values and traditions that transcend tribal boundaries. This included a video featuring a prayer in traditional American Indian sign language, a communication technique shared by more than 40 separate tribes.
Another tradition shared across tribes and still practiced to this day is the “give-away” ceremony. The tradition calls for significance to be placed on the act of giving rather than the value of the gift itself.
At the conclusion of the DSCC program, Caroline Watson, chair of DLA Land and Maritime’s Equal Employment Opportunity Native American Special Emphasis Program, presented Halfmoon with a give-away gift on behalf of the Defense Federal Community – A hand-woven turquoise necklace.
The theme of this year’s National American Indian History Month observance was “Serving our Nations” – a celebration of public service and community involvement.