NSA Philadelphia uses storytelling to celebrate American Indian heritage

By Shaun Eagan DLA Troop Support Public Affairs

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The Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support workforce and other Naval Support Activity Philadelphia employees celebrated National American Indian Heritage Month through storytelling during a “Sovereignty, Trust and Resilience” themed program Dec. 11.

Originally scheduled for November, but postponed due to inclement weather, the program highlighted the American Indian Lenape tribe’s journey of self-governance and fighting spirit, as told by an American Indian storyteller.

The guest speaker, Rob Aptaker, spent more than 40 years visiting native people across America and parts of Canada learning their stories, traditions and songs. He shared stories about the Lenape tribe’s history, resiliency and contributions to the country.

The government moved the Lenape tribe at least six times, with each move promised to be “the last time.” Even though the Lenape moved to areas they were not familiar with, they were “incredibly good” at adapting to their new homeland, he told the audience.

“Some of the greatest buffalo scouts in the Northern Plains were Delaware Indians from Pennsylvania…and we didn’t have buffalo here,” Aptaker said. “Even the early Lewis and Clark expeditions included scouts with them. There were people who adapted wherever they went and got good at whatever was put in front of them.”

Aptaker also shared how American Indians take honor in serving in the military. Veterans and military service are important to their tribes because they “honor those who stood between the people and the enemy – both men and women who served.”

During the event, Navy Capt. Kerri Yarbrough, Naval Supply Systems Command Weapon Systems Support Aviation deputy commander, also talked on the impact American Indians had on the country and military.

“Native Americans rose to become some of our nation’s distinguished leaders in many fields, especially in the rich history and legacy of the United States,” Yarbrough said. “Furthermore, they fought to protect this legacy as members of our Armed Forces.”

Yarbrough told the story of Navy Petty Officer James. E. Williams, a Cherokee of South Carolina who is considered the most decorated enlisted sailor of all time. Williams fought in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and was one of 32 American Indians to receive the Medal of Honor.

“In 1966, while serving as a boat captain and patrol officer aboard a river patrol boat, he sunk 65 North Vietnamese boats and eliminated 1,200 enemy fighters with only two boats and 10 men,” Yarbrough said.

According to Aptaker, American Indians did not get their citizenship until 1924 because of the high number of American Indians that volunteered to serve in the Armed Forces. He suggests that in World War II, had Americans volunteered at the rate that American Indians did, there would have been no need for a draft.

“If you go to any Native American gathering today, the second dance that they do is the ‘Veteran’s Dance,’” Aptaker said. “Whether you have a drop of native blood or not, anybody who has served is called up to dance because they want to honor them.”

When colonists started coming to North America, Aptake believes their exposure to American Indian culture helped shape the values of the U.S.

Honor was the highest value and freedom “was assumed” in their tribes. The American Indians believed in autonomous villages, and women were valued, respected and even considered as the ones who supported the family. There were no kings and American Indians could just leave their tribes if they wanted. These values were different from what was familiar to Europeans.

“The freedom that we enjoy and that we love was not an idea that was invented, but rather an idea that was discovered by the colonist who came here,” Aptaker said.

Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support Equal Employment Opportunity office and the NAVSUP WSS Equal Opportunity Advisory Committee co-hosted the event.