FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Nov. 15, 2018) -- November is National Native American Heritage Month, and Fort Drum community members gathered Nov. 14 at the Commons to celebrate the theme of "Sovereignty, Trust, Resilience."

The guest speaker for the observance was Perry Ground, project director of the Native American Resource Center in the Rochester City School District. Ground, a dynamic storyteller, and the Haudenosaunee performers used the entire ballroom to captivate the audience in stories, songs and dances.

Ground introduced himself as a Turtle Clan member of the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Ground's father is a member of the Seneca Nation, but he is Onondaga because it is the custom to follow the mother's side of the family.

"Haudenosaunee means 'People making the extended house,' or sometimes we just say 'People of the long house,'" he said. "That term is very important to us, and it comes from the time when we joined ourselves together. We have been sovereign for about a thousand years."

Ground told the story about how the five tribes of people who lived in upstate New York were constantly at war against each other about a thousand years ago. A peacemaker convinced them to stop fighting, and he taught them how to live in peace. This union is best explained with the example of an arrow. One arrow is easy to break by hand, but a bundle of five is strong enough to withstand that pressure. Hence, a union of five tribes, the peacemaker argued, is strong and would not easily be defeated.

"He got everyone to join together," Ground said. "He said we would be like one family, joined together in one gigantic long house."

Ground also spoke about the trust that some of the tribes had when they formed alliances with the colonists who would start a revolution against England.

"The Oneidas and the Tuscaroras said they believed in this cause and what these new Americans were trying to do," he said. "So, in the majority, the Oneida men fought with the Revolutionary Army."

He said that when Gen. George Washington took his troops to Valley Forge in the dead of winter, it was their Native American allies who provided them sustenance.

"They walked from here to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, carrying big baskets of corn on their backs," Ground said. "They walked those few hundred miles, and when they got there they gave that corn as a gift to the Continental Army."

Ground said that an Oneida woman - her English name being Polly Cooper - volunteered to stay at the camp to prepare the corn for the troops.

"She would later return to serve the Army in War of 1812," he said. "At the end of that winter, the officers were so grateful for what she had done they asked their wives to take Polly out shopping."

Ground said that Cooper saw a shawl that she greatly admired, and the officers presented it to her before she returned to her tribe. That shawl would be passed on to members of her tribe for many generations and remains there today.

"That shawl is a great example of trust between the Oneida people and the U.S. government," he said. "Sometimes they put it on exhibit now at the Oneida Nation Cultural Center."

Ground explained how generations of Native Americans used storytelling to share historical narratives, lessons on morals and legends, in lieu of a written language.

"One of the things that is very important to the Haudenosaunee is that we love telling stories. Actually, they love to travel all over the country, sharing our Haudenosaunee stories," he said, "Hundreds of years ago, we didn't have a way to write things down. So if we wanted to remember something, if we wanted to pass something down from one generation to the next, we had to put it in a story."

The observance was hosted by 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade, with 2nd Lt. John Moran, 10th Headquarters and Special Troops Battalion S-1, serving as narrator. Command Sgt. Maj. Roy L. Young, 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade's senior enlisted adviser, thanked Ground and the performers for sharing their culture with the Fort Drum audience.

"It is events such as this that help shape cultural understanding and strengthen community relationships," he said. "Today's attendees have been richly taught and spiritually edified as we have listened to the messages which have been presented and the testimonies which have been borne. Your presence here and willingness to share is a true testament of your generosity and illustrates the pride that you have for the Onondaga Nation, Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the American Indian heritage."