CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — A Soldier descended from the Wolf Clan of the Seneca Nation of Indians — currently deployed to Kuwait with the Fort Bragg, North Carolina, based 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command — reflected on her cultural and military roots for this year’s Native American Heritage observance.
“I’m proud to say I’m Native American,” said Staff Sgt. Jassmine J. Thornton. “I feel like if I had to live my life on a reservation I would fit perfectly.”
Thornton serves as an automated logistics specialist, or 92A, in the 1st Theater Sustainment Command operational command post.
The staff sergeant grew up in Buffalo, New York, in the lands of her ancestors. The Seneca were the largest of six Native American nations that comprised the Iroquois Confederacy, or Six Nations, a democratic government. As the westernmost located tribe of the six nations located in New York, the Seneca Indians were known as the “Keeper of the Western Door.”
Thornton split her childhood years living between the homes of her parents; she gets her Native American roots from her father, Greg, and her Puerto Rican heritage from her mother, Janet.
“He’s a member on the council,” Thornton said of her father. “I never really got to do the powwow’s on the reservations … I wish at times when I [went] to my dad’s in the summer that that’s something we did, but I’m content and happy.”
The staff sergeant said what she knows today about her culture is based on information she has gleaned from personal research and social media connections with other Native Americans. The knowledge has helped her to better understand her sexual identity as a member of the LGBT community.
“Elders taught that there were two spirits, one heart, five genders,” Thornton said. “So the Native American belief is that some people are born with the spirits of both genders and express them so perfectly, it is as if they have two spirits in one body.
“They didn’t look at women who dressed masculine as ‘Oh, you’re this that and the third,’ you were called a two-spirited female,” the staff sergeant continued. “And they looked at that as a sort of gift, like you weren’t like just regular, there was something special about you.”
Thornton said she also identifies with the fact that her female descendants were looked at like “strong warrior” types rather than as solely “in the kitchen cooking types.”
“Women were basically the head of the household,” she said. “Sometimes they also switched roles where the women would go out and hunt and stuff and the men would be the ones making jewelry.
“Men and women had different roles but generally had equal rights,” Thornton continued.
The staff sergeant chose to follow her own warrior path by enlisting in the National Guard in August 2008, and transitioning to active-duty service in August 2010.
“I just talked to certain people … I call them our elders … and they just always tell me, ‘you were a warrior in your past life,’” Thornton said. “So it’s just something that I continue to do, defying any odds thrown at me.”
The staff sergeant’s budding career could be have been cut short by a back injury that required surgery in 2013, but Thornton said she pushed through it.
“I’ve never been the type to just give up and quit,” she said. “I know my body better than anyone else; I’m in the gym every day, as long as my body allows me, as long as my back allows me, I’m going to continue.”
Thornton said being a Soldier is a rewarding occupation.
“I had a Soldier come to me today and … the fact that she felt comfortable coming to me, it made me feel good — I look at it more like being a big sister rather than oh I’m the higher ranking,” the staff sergeant said. That’s my favorite part, just being a leader, being able to help somebody, whether it’s changing their life or maybe … just giving them a little bit of guidance.”
Thornton said she looks forward to redeploying in 2022 and incorporating more elements of her heritage into her life. Most recently, she’s been looking into the practice of smudging.
Smudging involves lighting the end of a sage bundle with a match and letting the thick smoke linger in a space you’d like cleansed, being careful to collect the ashes in a ceramic bowl or shell.
“You kind of bless your area,” the staff sergeant said. “I learned that you can’t get sage from just anywhere; sage actually has to come from a place, because it can actually carry bad spirits with it — I’m a very spiritual and energy type person.”