News | Nov. 25, 2019

The Defense Federal Community celebrates Native American Heritage Month

By James Harless Land and Maritime Public Affairs

The Defense Federal Community celebrated Native American Heritage Month Nov. 19 in the Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime Operations Center Buckeye and Cardinal Rooms.

November is National Native American Heritage Month. It's a time to affirm our commitment to working toward a society that fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation for the diversity of culture and history of the 573 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native nations in our country.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November as "National American Indian Heritage Month." Although the name eventually changed, it started an annual tradition upheld in communities across the United States.

After the culturally tailored Native American invocation, associates in attendance at this year’s event heard from Tyrone and Masami Smith from the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio located in Columbus.

The NAICCO was originally founded in 1975 by Selma Sully-Walker. NAICCO is devoted to preserving and restoring balance in the lives of American Indian and Alaska Native youth and families living in and around Ohio through culture, wellness, community and education.

The Smiths took over NAICCO in 2011 and immediately began working on community development and programming for Native Americans. Ty Smith stated that even though less than one percent of the more than 11.5 million residents in Ohio identify as Native American, 20 percent or nearly 24,000, reside in Columbus.

“One of the biggest challenges for our people here is having a lack of infrastructure,” Smith said. “We don’t have any of the support that you normally see out West. There are no reservations, no Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Services. As a result, NAICCO becomes a one-stop shop for our people who are seeking assistance.”

Smith connected this need for support to the theme of this year’s observance, Honoring Our Nations: Building Strength Through Understanding, by stating there is not only a lack of resources for Native Americans, there is a lack of cultural awareness.

“Once we began improving the infrastructure and programming available for our people, we noticed the there was still a big piece missing from all of it: culture,” Smith said.

“We knew if we wanted to address this, we needed to take a deeper dive into it, because the term culture tends to be over generalized. We began by looking at the current value systems of our people and needed to identify where we fit into this country today. What is the understanding of our people emerging and redefining our own identity in the modern world? We are more than the traditions of drums and ceremonies.”

Smith concluded his presentation by speaking of the future for NAICCO and shared their vision and plans for social, cultural and economic development.

“We hope to carve out our own niche in this state and create unlimited opportunities for our people to succeed, have a sustainable future and be engaged in modern day society,” Smith said.

At the conclusion of the program, Defense Finance and Accounting Service Columbus associate and Native American in Philanthropy member Angela Beltz led the “give-away” ceremony,  a tradition shared across Native American tribes and still practiced to this day. The tradition calls for significance to be placed on the act of giving rather than the value of the gift itself.

Beltz presented Ty and Masasmi Smith with hand-woven lanyards made by the Dakota from Spirit Lake Nation Fort Totten North on behalf of the Defense Federal Community.