FORT STEWART, GA -- Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield held its annual Native American Indian Cultural Observance Program, Nov. 1 at Marne Garden with hundreds in attendance.

Although the climate was cool, Voice in the Wind master of ceremony Ryan Eddy, also known as Little Big Mountain quickly warmed audience members with story telling, which preceded bright and energetic dance demonstrations from Voice in the Wind members.

Voice in the Wind, a Native American organization that presents educational programs based on the Native American culture, including story telling performed at the event noted differences and similarities of Native Americans from tribe to tribe, and helped dispel some of the "Movie Indians" many see on television. He said while no native American would raise a hand and say "How," unless it was part of a question, they would raise their hand to show respect to indicate they had no weapon and meant no harm, much like today's salute.

Throughout the ceremony, it became clear that spiritual fitness was part of the American Indian way of life, like the Jingle dance performed by Jennifer Jones of the Ojibwas tribe, who dressed in bright colored cloth, decorated with tiny silver bells. She demonstrated that dance was for healing, with of the cones representing a prayer for each day of the year.

With Marne Garden decorated with tepees, lean-to and other tent variations, those in attendance were immersed in the cultural lesson, particularly as the invocation was adapted from an older Native American prayer, modified for the Father, rather than the Great Spirit.

"Oh Father whose voice I hear in the wind and whose breath gave to life to all the world, Chaplain (Lt. Col. Bryan Walker) read. "Hear me for I am small and weak. I need your strength and wisdom. Let me walk empty and my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. Make my hands respect the things you have made, and my ears so I hear your voice. Make me wise to understand the things you have taught my people"
The prayer went on to ask for knowledge to understand God's lessons, and strength not for personal gain, but for the betterment of people.

But Little Big Mountain said not all the dances were necessarily religious in nature but were also traditional, used for both entertainment and practicality, for instance, helping twirl smoke from their lodging, making it lift up and out. He said children who may be less inclined to work, were apt to dance and help clear the room if it looked fun. Indian ingenuity, he joked.
No matter their purpose, the Voice in the Wind performers wore colorful outfits, and demonstrated high energy in performing for those in attendance.

Bronson Haywaha performed the grass dance, which originated to help keep the grass down without damaging the buffalos' feeding source; Georgena Haywaha, performed the fancy shawl dance; and Jimmy Big Mountain and Joseph Big Mountain, both Mohawkan and Comanche, performed a smoke dance. In addition, Joseph performed the traditional northern dance.