Celebrating American Indian diversity and heritage

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Seraiah Hines
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs

American Indians have served in the armed forces since World War I.

Over the years there were many who sought a day or week to honor these early Americans. It wasn’t federally recognized until 1990 when President George H. W. Bush designated November as National American Indian Heritage Month.

“For the newer generation it is an honor to have this month set aside,” said Sokoagon Chippewa tribe member, Airman Walter Panick, 316th Training Squadron student. “Being able to show who we are and what we have done throughout history is awesome.”

This month is used to observe, educate, and honor the cultures of the different tribes of indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere. There are 567 federally recognized tribes throughout the United States. With over 500 different recognized tribes, each with their own holidays and traditions, the heritage of Native Americans is rich and diverse.

During both world wars there were tribes called upon to become ‘code talkers’ when America was having trouble with codes being solved by enemies. The ‘code talkers’ would contribute by talking in their tribe’s specific unique spoken language. Since this language was only oral, no written record, the enemy code breakers were unable to accomplish their task of breaking it.

“I knew some of the history and facts behind the code breakers,” said Panick. “But, I didn’t know that it was a whole month was set aside.”

Additionally, as a way honor that history and heritage, the Army enacted Army Regulation 70-20 in April 1969, stating that helicopters would be named after Native American tribes and chiefs. The regulation has since been rescinded but the tradition still continues to this day. After all of the paperwork for naming a new aircraft is done, the helicopter or aircraft is a part of a ceremony attended by Native American leaders who bestow tribal blessings.

Panick also shared memories about some of his favorite times with the tribe.

“The month of November is also popular time for powwows, a large gathering to celebrate the creator and what has been given, it focuses around the drum, the heartbeat of nature. There is dancing to honor that heartbeat,” said Panick. “I enjoyed being able to grow up under the elders’ influence. There was a lot to learn from them, so much that has been passed down generation to generation.”

Despite 148 years of hostilities with early settlers, Native Americans chose to serve with the United States military, including 25 of whom have earned the Medal of Honor.

National American Indian Heritage Month is a time to learn something new about a culture that was there to greet the first individuals to step foot in the “new world.” To honor those who have stood beside us in battle, starting with the 12,000 that served in WWI, even before being granted citizenship. Honoring those who continue to answer the call.   

To help remember that heritage and history, this year’s theme for National American Indian Heritage Month, ‘Sovereignty, Trust and Resilience.’