Fort Sill celebrates American Indian Heritage Month
November 23, 2011
FORT SILL, Okla. -- As a young boy Towana Spivey didn't look like an American Indian. He had blue eyes and a fair complexion, but his brother was dark skinned and dark haired. "However, inside, in your heart, in your mind. I was the Indian, he was not. He never thought, felt or acted like an Indian, and he looked Indian," Spivey said.
Whether speaking about his upbringing, serving as a consultant on Indian cultures or procuring artifacts for a museum, Spivey always carries his heritage with him.
Spivey, Fort Sill National Historic Museum director and curator, was the guest speaker at the post's National American Indian Heritage Month Nov. 17 at the Patriot Club.
The annual commemoration was sponsored by the 428th Field Artillery Brigade and hosted by Maj. Gen. David Halverson, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general. This year's theme is "Service, Honor, Respect: Strengthening Our Cultures and Communities."
"I thought it was great. The speaker was really good," said Capt. Anton Massmann, A Battery, 1st Battalion, 78th Field Artillery battery commander. Massmann was one of the hundreds of service members, civilians and guests at the annual commemorative.
The Boy Scouts of America were one of the first to recognize American Indians when they set aside a day to honor them in the early 1900s, said master of ceremonies Mike Dooley, 428th FA Brigade deputy commander. On Sept. 28, 1915, the Congress of the American Indian Association declared the second Saturday of May as American Indian Day. It wasn't until Public 102-188 was passed in March 1992, that the nation established an American Indian Heritage Month.
Col. John Drago, 428th FA Brigade commander, said tribal America has provided this country with values and ideas that have become ingrained in the American spirit. These include the understanding that people from very different backgrounds, cultures, religions and traditions can come together to build a great country, he said. "And, the awareness that diversity can be a source of strength, rather than division."
During the luncheon, a slideshow of prominent American Indians, including many military members, flashed across a screen.
"Brig. Gen. Jonathan George, the only Comanche to earn general officer status has served in the Air Force since 1981 and is currently in Afghanistan; Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, 23, a Navajo was the first American Indian woman to die in combat while serving with the U.S. military; and Sgt. Larry Laurenzana, who was in the Army from 1968-70, and the Marine Corps from 1970-74, serving tours in Vietnam in both branches."
Spivey, whose Chickasaw ancestors came to the Indian Territory in 1837, was born in Madill, Okla.
One day he discovered his father's name was not "Chief" -- which is what everybody called him. "I was a little bit shocked at 14 to learn his name was Norman Dean," he said.
As a young man in 1960, Spivey joined the Oklahoma Army National Guard's 45th Infantry Division. In 1962, at the Fort Hood, Texas, Noncommissioned Officer Academy, Spivey sat in a barber's chair for his "27-second military haircut." The barber bragged to him that he was the one who gave Elvis his haircut when he was drafted into the Army.
"Oh, you mean Elvis and I have the same barber now," Spivey said.
As part of a military funeral detail Spivey heard the Soldier they were burying was killed in combat. Spivey was curious where he was killed because there were no wars going on in 1962. He was told Vietnam.
"Where was Vietnam? I never heard of it, didn't know anything about it," Spivey said. "He was one of the first advisers that was killed in the conflict."
American Indians have been serving in the nation's military since the beginning of the nation, if not earlier, Spivey said. The fact is they often have not been recognized, he said.
Early in the Gulf War, Spivey received a call from a general officer telling him an American Soldier, a Lakota Sioux, was one of the first causalities. The deceased Soldier's ancestors were among those who were massacred at Wounded Knee, S.D. in 1890.
"Now here he was fighting in Iraq, to protect his country, to defend his country," Spivey said.
There were concerns about possible demonstrations at the Indian Soldier's military funeral. The GO, who was at the Pentagon, needed to know about Indian history and protocol for the burial, so Spivey briefed him through a conference call.
At the funeral, the general asked for all veterans to stand. About three-fourths of the packed crowd stood up, the general told Spivey.
"He was just amazed at how many (American Indian) people were veterans, he couldn't believe it," Spivey said. "The general said, 'Why don't we know more about this? Why don't we understand this better?'"
Concluding, Spivey said: "I hope that when you go about your business the rest of the year, and not just in November that you develop an appreciation and awareness for the contributions made by Native Americans in military history, in American history, in Oklahoma history.
After the audience expressed their appreciation for Spivey's speech, Halverson thanked him and gave him a special plaque.