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NEWS | Nov. 17, 2017

Service members, Native Americans share a culture of honor

By Senior Airman Kaylee Dubois 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Tribal beats and chants filled the Wylie Theater as performers and audience members paraded single-file, moving their feet in an intricate dance. 

Donned in full regalia, these dancers paid a stunning tribute to National Native American Heritage Month during a celebration at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Nov. 15, 2017. 

In 1990, President George H. W. Bush proclaimed November as Native American Heritage Month to honor the first Americans’ contributions, sacrifices, history and culture. 

Along with music, Native American cuisine and art, the celebration of culture hosted by the 128th Aviation Brigade welcomed retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kenneth Adams, Upper Mattaponi Indian tribe chief, as the guest speaker. 

“In many cases, native people in this country are still suffering and living as third-world nations,” said Adams. “If you go to some of these reservations, you will see homes with no electricity or no running water, and one of the biggest problems is there are no jobs. The only way to combat this is to provide the native people with an education–that is my vision for the future.” 

Like many others, the chief saw the military as the best way to earn an education. He retired from the Air Force after 24 years of active-duty service, with a one-year tour in Vietnam. Speaking engagements and similar events allow him to teach service members, with whom he shares a connection, about his people and culture. 

For some Joint Base Langley-Eustis audience members, Adams’ speech influenced the way they viewed the Native American people. 

“The strength of the U.S. is truly our diversity,” said U.S. Army Col. Richard Zampelli, 128th Aviation Brigade commander. “Listening to chief Adams’ words today, I truly learned that our communities have a lot more in common than we think: self-less service, supporting our nation and supporting our communities.” 

“The warrior class, the honor of protection, runs very strong in our culture,” said Aio Sifu, a local Native American missionary member. “There is not, and never will be, a single pow-wow without an honor song for the veterans.” 

Sifu encourages anyone who may be interested in the Native American culture to attend a pow-wow. She believes understanding other cultures helps society’s citizens to live harmoniously.  

“This month, these moments are an opportunity for us to let people know we are still here,” said Sifu. “An elder once said, ‘Although we may have been forgotten, we see this is still the land we need to protect. My family is still on it, the trees, the rocks, the sky, the people are still in my heart and so I stand up in service.’” 

Native Americans have served in the U.S. military for more than 200 years, reinforcing a culture of honor, courage and determination mirrored in both service and tribal members.