FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker got a taste of the importance of diversity as it kicked off Native American Heritage Month at the post exchange Nov. 4.

People were treated to authentic Native American cuisine, got the chance look at authentic artifacts, and were able to witness and hear the songs and dances of different tribes from across the country.

"As the First Americans, Native Americans have helped shape the future of the United States through every turn of our history," said MSgt. Joseph Christensen, chief equal opportunity adviser and narrator for the event, as he read the presidential proclamation. "Today, young American Indians and Alaska Natives embrace open-ended possibility and are determining their own destinies. During National Native American Heritage Month, we pledge to maintain the meaningful partnerships we have with tribal nations, and we renew our commitment to our nation-to-nation relationships as we seek to give all our children the future they deserve."

That message echoed what Fort Rucker officials hoped to convey with its kickoff ceremony that started with a traditional flag and veteran dance, with accompaniment by the Choctaw tribe drum group out of Mississippi.

"At the beginning of a powwow, there is a grand entry when we bring in the colors -- the American flag, some of the state flags and the Native American flag," said Richard Greybull, veteran and member of the Dakota tribe. "We'll have different dances and we all dance into the circle with the first song. Then, after the first song, we'll play the flag song, which is where we pay respect to our flag and all tribes.

"After the flag song, we sing the veteran song, and that is to honor all the veterans," he said. "No matter who you are, no matter what race or ethnic group, we're singing for all American's rights and the rights of all citizens, regardless of whether you agree with their views or not."

While the drums were pounding and tribe members were dancing in their authentic garb, people were able to sample some Native American cuisine, including black bean soup, pumpkin soup, wasna and hominy and chicken.

The tribute was also a chance for people to learn a little bit about the Native American tribes throughout the U.S. and the contributions they've made to the development of the nation.

Chelsea Dillion, military family member, said the importance of celebrating diversity can't be understated because it's that diversity that makes the U.S. so special, and it started with the Native Americans.

"I think it's important to honor the native people of this country because they're the ones who made the first sacrifices for our country," she said. "They're the ones who helped our ancestors to thrive in this country to make it what it is today.

"To hear stories about how even though their people have been through so much tragedy and strife, they're still able to get up and stand together not only within their own tribes, but with all Americans, is a testament to what this country is about and how we need to be to continue to thrive in the future," she continued. "It's really an inspiration to be able to hear their stories, and I truly do believe that through learning about different cultures and seeing how diverse we are as a nation is something that can really bring us all together."

Margaret Thorne, military spouse, agreed and said it's a great lesson for people to learn, especially for those who might not have had to face such hardship.

"I think it's just a great way to pay tribute to not just this culture but all cultures that have had to overcome adversity," she said. "This gives a bit of perspective as to what it's like to have to fight for freedoms that not many people are born into, and it's really humbling."

Despite the adversity, Greybull, who also teaches at Fort Rucker Elementary School, said it's not about any one person's struggle, but going above and beyond to serve your people.

"People ask, 'Why do you serve as a Native American?'" he said. "I served for my family and my people. Nobody can say that we didn't defend this country. We have a proud history of serving in this country. We're very proud of our heritage."