ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- First Army hosted a National American Indian Heritage Observance here Nov. 21.

The observance featured a performance by Ronald Preston, a member of the San Carlos Apache Nation in Arizona, and a presentation by retired Army Maj. Jo Ann Schedler, a member of the Mohican Nation in Wisconsin.

"I know how busy everyone on the arsenal is, so I want to say thank you to all of you from across the island who took time from your hectic schedules to celebrate diversity and the real Americans that helped found this great nation of ours," said Col. Shawn Klawunder, First Army chief of staff.

Preston performed several songs and dances, including the Grass Dance.

"I am still just a young man, I still have a lot to learn, I just hope you enjoy this brief performance," Preston said.

Preston wore traditional Apache garb and explained that it was not an act, but a way of life, for him.

"I do not do the Apache Grass Dance, I am an Apache who dances the Grass Dance," he said.

Schedler is from the Stockbridge-Munsee Community based in Wisconsin. Her public service includes 20 years as an officer in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps; she is also a founding member of the Mohican Veterans.

During her presentation, Schedler described the troubled history of the Native American tribes that culminated with the U.S. government's Indian Termination Policy, a deliberate attempt starting in the 1940s to obliterate Native American culture by eradicating knowledge of Native languages and customs through assimilation.

"For a long time we were told by the missionaries that it wasn't appropriate to speak our language, and to dance those dances was wrong," Schedler said.

President Richard Nixon recommended in 1960 that Congress abandon the morally flawed concept of assimilation and create "a new era in which the Indian future is determined by Indian acts and Indian decisions."

In 1968, Congress passed the Indian Civil Rights Act, legally legitimizing the concept of Native American self-determination. Despite the lingering taboos established by many years of assimilation policies, Native Americans began the process of reviving ancient knowledge and traditions.

"Our younger people wanted to know our culture, wanted to learn about it," Schedler said. "We had our first pow-wow in the early 1970s, and today we have it every year."

Despite centuries of discrimination, Native Americans have defended the United States of America in every war since the American Revolution.

"Native Americans have served their country in greater numbers per capita than any other ethnic group, and they have served with distinction in every major battle over 200 years," Schedler said.

More than 22,000 Native Americans serve in the Armed Forces today.

"My grandson is in the Army Reserve; my brother is retired Navy," Schedler said.

Klawunder provided closing remarks on the significance of National American Indian Heritage Month.

"America's diversity has always been one of our great strengths, as people of different backgrounds and cultures share their unique talents and perspective," he said. "Our Army, too, is stronger for its diversity, and we must ensure that every member of the force has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential."