Land and Maritime honors first Americans

By Michael L. Jones DLA Land and Maritime Public Affairs

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Attracted by the sound of Native American background music DLA Land and Maritime associates filed into the Building 20 auditorium to be educated and entertained by the latest in DLA’s continuing series of special emphasis diversity programs.

“I’ve been to a lot of events and programs in my long tenure of wearing the Navy uniform,” Navy Rear Admiral John King, DLA Land and Maritime commander said during his welcoming remarks. King went on to acknowledge the Columbus events were by far the best he’s ever attended and how honored he felt to be Land and Maritime’s commander.

With program pleasantries that included a stirring rendition of the National Anthem and a culturally tailored Native invocation, the stage was set for every attendee to experience the range of diversity that exits within the Columbus workforce.

A captivating display of traditional dance by the featured group of Grass Dancers provided a historical snapshot into Indian culture. Moving rhythmically to traditional Indian music and colorfully dressed, the dancers performed specialized movements, each conveying specific meaning. The Mistress of Ceremonies highlighted the inspirational importance of the dancer’s moves and provided detailed explanations of each dance’s purpose and meaning.

Guest speaker, Ms. Marti Chaatsmith, assistant director of the Newark Earthworks Center at the Ohio State University at Newark, using the energy created by the dancers’ performance, transitioned into her presentation which included historical and educational material she willingly shared.

 “In the Indian world we have a saying that everyone is related,” Chaatsmith said as she expressed appreciation for the invitation and the warm reception. Explaining that this year’s them was “Growing Native Leaders, Enhancing our Seven Generations” Chaatsmith began her discussion talking about historical challenges Native Americans faced and drew direct attention to the ceremonial burial mounds that are located throughout Ohio.

Referencing earthworks and mounds that were constructed more than 2000 years ago Chaatsmith explained that during that timeframe the Ohio Valley represented the center of the Indian world.

“Hopi Culture created earthen architecture, what we’ve come to reference as earthworks and mounds, and their creation reflected the Hopi understanding of science and art,” said Chaatsmith. She added that the structures were enormous, sometimes as large as 50 acres and as high as 23 feet. “Some of these structures incorporated specially prepared earth that was sometimes ferried in from as far away as 30 miles.”

Many of the structures were created in geometric and circular shapes and built in areas that weren’t prone to flooding. Chaatsmith said the meticulous site selection helped ensure the presence of many of these structures today. Using maps dating back to the 1800s she explained the significance of selected structures.

“Earthworks and Mounds were often grouped to support certain functions – i.e. burial/cemetery areas, astronomical observatory, effigy mounds (build to resemble people and animals) and more were built with specific purposes in mind, Chaatsmith said. “For more than 5,000 years they were widely used by the communities surrounding them – with many of them being built along rivers and streams to facilitate travel.”

She talked about the physical and cultural conflicts over land rights that accompanied the arrival of settlers. By 1850 all of the Ohio tribes had been relocated to other areas. Noting that there are no recognized tribes currently residing in Ohio, Chaatsmith speculated with those in attendance what Ohio might look like today if the original Indian land claims had been acknowledged, rather than their forced removal and relocation.

Indians are actively advocating at local, state and federal government activities on behalf of Native American interests, which include historical preservation of Indian sacred sites and structures. Their efforts also include educational initiatives aimed at debunking Native American stereotypes.

Chaatsmith mentioned some of the Native American leaders at the federal level who’ve made it their work to preserve as many of the native sites as possible. As an example she cited the Hopewell Ceremonial site in Ohio, which is up for consideration as a world heritage site; a declaration that helps protect it for future generations to enjoy.

“All of us who are Indians are descendants of the mound builders and their blood runs through our veins. We’re the stewards of these sites and this is a responsibility we should take seriously,” Chaatsmith urged.

Chaatsmith concluded her presentation by encouraging everyone in the audience to help with preservation efforts in any way they could.