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Public gets glimpse of American Indian heritage, traditions

By Mr. J. Parker Roberts | EO | December 12, 2013

The heritage and culture of the nation's native people was on display Nov. 20 at Riley's Conference Center, as the 1st Infantry Division Equal Opportunity Office hosted the Native American Indian Heritage Month Observance.

In a lunchtime ceremony, the office organized a sampling of American Indian food and brought in guest speakers Polly Davis, a former 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div. Soldier, and her husband, Ryan Harjo.

Davis is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation from Bristow, Okla. She is a student at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan., where she is studying business administration and tribal management.

Harjo is a Native-American flute player and powwow singer and dancer, storyteller and musician, who also is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and a student at Haskell Indian Nations University. The performer also makes American Indian flutes and talks with youth groups about traditional stories, contemporary issues and powwow etiquette.

"Thanks for having me today," Davis said before turning the microphone over to Harjo, who entertained the audience with stories of Native American warfare.

"Our storytelling … is kind of the way that Native Americans pass down information from generation to generation," Harjo said. "Storytelling is kind of like an art."

Harjo spoke about the Native-American practice of nonlethal combat.

"It doesn't do you any good, when you're in a group of people, to fight amongst yourselves," he said. "Sioux Indians, they have a practice of what they call counting, or taking coup."

The performer said taking coup was a practice where a combatant would sneak up on an enemy and touch them with a stick or mock weapon, rather than killing the individual.

"When you count coup, you're saying 'I could have killed you, but I did not.' And that's what they thought was honorable," Harjo said.

Leisa Foster, a Native American and military spouse of a 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 1st ABCT, 1st Inf. Div. Soldier, said she came to the observance, which was her first, to see how the post celebrates her heritage.

"I'm mostly Native American, and I just wanted to see how Fort Riley celebrates Native-American life," she said. "I think it went very well. I didn't know there were going to be guest speakers here."

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