By U.S. ArmyDecember 4, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Members of the APG community learned more about American Indian Heritage through song and dance during a Team APG celebration hosted by the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command at the APG North (Aberdeen) post theater Nov. 20. The theme for the 2013 National American Indian Heritage Month observance is, "Guiding our Destiny with Heritage and Traditions."
Deirdre Sumpter, from the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command's Army Evaluation Center, greeted the audience. Sumpter said the month was set aside to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of American Indians and Alaskan Natives.
"Throughout our history, American Indians and Alaskan Natives have been an integral part of the American character," Sumpter said. "Against the odds, America's first residents have endured. They remain a vital cultural, political, social and moral presence."
The guest speaker was Mark Wild Turkey Tayac, the 28th hereditary chief of the Piscataway Nation. Tayac is a direct descendant of Turkey Tayac who was a Piscataway Indian leader and herbal doctor. Today the Piscataway leader is Chief Billy Red Wing Tayac, the father of Mark Tayac.
Tayac is the founder of the Piscataway Indian Nation Singers and Dancers, a group that has traveled throughout the country and the world, teaching about American Indian culture. The dances they perform have been passed down from generation to generation. He also works with American Indian youth, teaching them the value of their culture.
Tayac said many people have formed incorrect perceptions of the American Indian culture through old westerns, cartoons and sport team mascots. He said the goal of the Piscataway Indian Nation Singers and Dancers is to change incorrect images that the media has created. He beat a drum as he spoke, remarking that to native people, the drum represents the heartbeat of life.
"Our elders have always taught us, as long as you keep the drum alive the beauty of our culture will carry on for our children," he said. "It also teaches us no matter what ethnic background you come from, what religion you believe in, whether you are an infant or an elder; we're all members of that human family. We all have the same heart. "
After their opening dance, Tayac's group performed a series of dances depicting important aspects of the American Indian culture. One of the dances portrayed a sport that was popular in American Indian culture for hundreds of years, called "stick ball." Today, this popular sport is called lacrosse. A war dance depicted hunting, an important aspect of the American Indian culture.
The group also performed a grass dance, which originated from the art of flattening grass to set up an area for an encampment. Tayac said that an important aspect of this dance is that for every left turn there is a right turn to show balance and harmony.
"This dance teaches many of our young native youth to walk in harmony, to walk in balance," he said. "And [demonstrates] the responsibilities they have for their communities, to their Families."
Before the closing dance, Tayac remarked that his people prefer to be called "American Indian."
"We are the only people with the word American first, it shows our special relationship to this land, to this country," he said.
The program included the national anthem sung by Bobbi Buchman of CECOM and the invocation from ATEC Chaplain Assistant Sgt. 1st Class William Benjamin. ATEC Chief Counsel Jeff Hatch introduced the guest speaker and the ATEC Executive Technical Director and Deputy Commander Robert Carter delivered closing remarks.
After the program, attendees viewed cultural displays and sampled buffalo chili, vegetarian chili, Osage turkey stew with fall root vegetables and Indian fry bread with honey.
Event organizer Sgt. 1st Class Howard Norcross of ATEC thanked members of the Team APG Observance Committee, ATEC Graphic Designer Stephanie Aguiar and the Garrison's Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security and Visual Information Services Center for their support.
View more photos on the APG Flickr website at www.flickr.com/photos/usagapg.