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Observance celebrates National American Indian Heritage Month

By Patti Geistfeld | FORT RILEY PUBLIC AFFAIRS | November 24, 2017

     In a Native American Indian Heritage ceremony hosted by 1st Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade, Sgt. 1st Class Mark White provided background and history Nov. 15 at the Barlow Theater. After he finished, he introduced the speaker and performer for the event, Dennis Lee Rogers, a tribal member of the Navajo Nation and dancer dressed in full eagle feather regalia to the attendees.

     “Each November we celebrate National American Indian Heritage Month to recognize the tremendous contributions and the culture of American Indians and Alaska Natives to our nation,” White said. “The theme for the 2017 observance is ‘Standing Together.’ The theme of this year’s observance gives us a chance to reflect in the rich traditions and accomplishments as well as the suffering and injustices which mark the history of the American Indians and Alaska Natives.”

     White said more than 8,000 American Indian Soldiers served during World War I and 6,000 of those were volunteers. Their patriotism moved Congress to pass the Indian and Citizenship Act of 1924, which granted American Indians the right to vote.

     “Today more than 9,000 Native Americans serve in the total Army force, 4,000 regular Army, 3,400 National Guard and 1,800 Army Reserve,” he said. “Historically American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest record of military service per capita when compared to other ethnic groups. More than 20 Native American Soldiers have been presented with the Medal of Honor. As the first people to live on the land we now call the United States, American Indians and Alaska Natives have profoundly shaped our country’s character and cultural heritage.”

     As the guest speaker, Rogers shared history, cultural information and interesting stories from his life. He talked about many of his family who served in the Armed Forces including two uncles who lost their lives as Code Talkers during World War II. He said he came from a long line of people who had the warrior spirit and how when he looked from side to side of the room he saw warrior people before him.

     “We are all descendants of warrior people and as such we do not forget those that have served before us and that is what propels us to serve with great honor and pride,” he said. “You know that warrior spirit that all these gentlemen have — they call themselves Soldiers, but in Navajo we call them warriors, but it’s the same.”

      He acknowledged the progress made toward diversity and how Native American culture has contributed to success in the military.

     “Thank goodness we have come a long ways in the way that we look at (different cultures) in this country that native people have served in every branch of the services and every major combat theater,” Rogers said. “We have utilized our language — not just the Navajo language as Code Talkers but other tribes utilized their languages as well.”

     Dancing is a key component of American Indian culture, past and present, and watching a demonstration provides an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the history, traditions and heritage passed down through generations. Before dancing, Rogers performed a song on a native flute. He then explained the significance and meaning behind the intertribal dances he was to perform for the attendees.

     He finished his demonstration with a memorial tribute, “Spirit Dancer.” He dedicated it to Soldiers who have taken their lives through suicide. He said he didn’t want to acknowledge it, but felt he needed to do so.

     “I had not had a chance to present to enlisted personnel here in close to 20 years and so I was excited about coming here, but yet I wanted to do something special that these gentlemen would remember for their time spent here today,” Rogers said. “So that was what Spirit Dancer was about. Let’s remember those — mental illness is a powerful thing that for whatever reason they took their lives.”

     During the dance, Rogers was accompanied with singing and drumming by Ross Cooper, a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation in Kansas.

     Sgt. Everett Guerito, 24th Composite Transportation Company, 1st Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade, from Gallup, New Mexico, a member of the Navajo Nation has served 19 years in the Army on active duty, the National Guard and Army Reserve. He has a legacy of relatives who have served the nation including grandfathers that were Code Talkers in World War II.

     “For me when asked why do I join, it’s just for protecting our way of life, which is something that we’ve always done, whether it was back during the Indian wars when we were protecting against outsiders, and now we are still trying to preserve that by protecting our freedoms, our land and our languages — especially our culture,” Guerito said.

      The ceremony concluded with a presentation by Brig. Gen. Stephen G. Smith, deputy commanding general-support, 1st Infantry Division, of a “Big Red One” as a token of appreciation on behalf of Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Martin, 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley commanding general, to Rogers for his contributions to the 2017 National Native American Heritage observance at Fort Riley.

 

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