Rock Island Arsenal learns about today's American Indians
November 27, 2013
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. --There is no one type of American Indian. In fact, Native Americans, as they are sometimes called, are as different as the lands they live on.
So said Dr. Scott Manning Stevens, who was the guest speaker at this year's "National American Indian Heritage Month" observance here Nov. 26 held in Heritage Hall. This year's theme is "Guiding Our Destiny with Heritage and Traditions."
Stevens is 50 percent Indian and is director of the Newberry's D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies in Chicago. He is also a member of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation of the Iroquois in New York.
He has been a visiting professor to the University of Notre Dame and will become an associate professor of Native American Studies at Syracuse University.
Stevens told attendees when he teaches, he likes to have students walk away with three things.
"We are different people from diverse cultures … as different as the lands they we live on," he said.
The differences are a by-product of the environment and circumstances of the region. "We have very different history," he said. Stevens likened the differences in people and culture to the variations as seen in Europe.
There are 566 federally-state recognized tribes in the United States, he said.
The second point is the realization of the continued presence of American Indians in today's world.
"We exist as part of the present," he said. Indians don't live in teepees today just as European-rooted people in the United States don't live like they did several hundred years ago.
Stevens said it's a wrong notion for people to think that Indian societies didn't adapt or change. He cited today's Indian youth going to a powwow with cells phones in hand.
"We don't want to say the only real Indian is a dead Indian," he said.
The third point is that "our traditions do help us continue," Stevens said. Not folk culture, per se, but the values of generations before us, he said.
"Younger always goes to older," Stevens said. They go across the room to ask elders, who will always have something to say, he said.
Related to this third point is the respect for language and our history, Stevens added.
Stevens cited a treaty his people had with the Dutch in 1613. He said it was the first treaty that the indigenous people negotiated with Europeans, in what would eventually become the United States.
There was mutual respect and mutual understanding for the use of the waterways, he said. "We can share that resource," was the thinking of his ancestors.
Interestingly, New York is home to more than a dozen Indian reservations today based on the treaties of yesteryear.
"We do live on our traditional homelands," Stevens said, adding we are "very fortunate."
Stevens also talked about Thanksgiving.
He said any meeting he attends with his native people begins with a giving of thanks.
"When we meet in the longhouse, we open with a thanksgiving," Stevens said. This usually runs about 45 minutes with many declarations of thanks stated by attendees, he said.
"Thanksgiving is similar to remembering," he said. And, he appreciates a good feast on a holiday like everyone else.
Prior to Stevens' presentation, a video titled "We Are Still Here" was shown highlighting three Native American youth growing up in northwest Minnesota.
It weaved together three interviews consisting of two females and one male with additional footage of them in their home environment.
Some of the comments made were: not realizing they were growing up poor; thinking everyone hunted, fished and gathered wild rice; having to search for Native American culture; the pain and trauma of alcohol abuse; and, because they are not taught Indian history, it is their responsibility to rebuild their culture.
Col. William Krahling, commander, Distribution Management Center, Army Sustainment Command, gave closing remarks.
He said American Indians have served in the U.S. military, making important contributions in defense of the nation, such as the Navajo "code talkers" during World War II. The uniformed Navajos used their native language for secret communications in the Pacific theater that the Japanese could not break, saving many lives.
"This land … it's a part of their culture," Krahling said.
The national anthem was sung by Alicia Boone, Operations Readiness, First Army; Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Joel Russell, Operations chaplain, First Army, provided the invocation; and Staff Sgt. Marie Sanders-Gulas, Army Contracting Command, provided welcoming remarks.
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush designated November as the National American Indian Heritage Month.
For more information on Native Americans and the Army, go to these links: