CAMP TAJI, Iraq - Soldiers of the 1st Air Cavalry "Warrior" Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, got a brief glimpse into American Indian history and culture, Nov. 3.
The keynote speaker for the event was Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rick Runninghawk, a 1st ACB tactical operations officer.

Runninghawk, a Cherokee native from Abilene, Texas, talked a little about his family history to give the troopers in attendance an idea of what it was like for him growing up.

His family name, Runninghawk, was changed long ago to Newton, said Runninghawk.

"The family name was changed so that we could not use or rely on our heritage as a crutch," he said. "So everything that we had achieved, attained and accomplished was done the white man's way and therefore could not be taken away."

After many years in the Army as both an enlisted Soldier and now a warrant officer, Runninghawk felt he had proven himself worthy of taking back his family name, he said.

"I felt it was time to take back the family name and be proud of where my roots came from and who I am today because of what my predecessors, my family members and all other Native Americans have endured," said Runninghawk.

Runninghawk also discussed the history of the Trail of Tears and how his tribe was affected by it.
"In the 1830s gold was discovered in Georgia and gold fever ran rampant therefore the people began to move into Cherokee lands and wanted more and more," he said "Finally dissention and hate came upon the land and (the settlers) put into motion what is now called the Indian Removal Act of 1838 which we call the Trail of Tears."

Ironically, at that time, in the 1830's, the Cherokees were escorted along the Trail of Tears by cavalrymen. These units would later make up the 1st Cavalry Division which Runninghawk serves under.

Yet another irony was the authorization of the Indian Removal Act, said Runninghawk.

"President Andrew Jackson, his command and life, were saved by 500 Cherokee allies during the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814," said Runninghawk. "Now the irony in this whole thing is that President Andrew Jackson was the one who authorized the Indian Removal Act."

For the Cherokee Nation, the route they took on the Trail of Tears ended in Tahlequah, which is now the capital for their tribe, said Runninghawk.

Since American Indians began serving in the Army, they have made significant contributions, one of which is portrayed in the movie "Windtalkers", said Torreon, N.M., native Sgt. Samantha Brown, the supply sergeant for Company C, 615th Aviation Support "Cold Steel," Battalion, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div.

Brown, who proudly proclaims her full-blooded Navajo lineage, discussed how Navajos used their language to encode messages during World War II; a code which was never broken by the enemy, she said.

She also read a poem by Navajo poet Della Frank, in her native language.

"Not a lot of people have heard the way I speak; only the people I work with. A lot of people have said they're interested in hearing me speak," she said. "I talk to my family in my native language all the time."

Brown believes that National American Indian Heritage Month is necessary to show people what being an American Indian is all about.

"I feel people should be educated on the past of Native Americans. Half of these people don't know the (history) of Native Americans," she said looking out at the gathering crowd.

Runninghawk closed the evening's ceremonies with a request to all who were in attendance.
"I hope through your travels ... you take a look around and you notice (the Native American Soldiers). They've done a lot; they've come a long way. The contributions, dedications and accomplishments by them were pretty substantial," he said.

"We care about our great nation, the United States of America, as much as anyone else," Runninghawk said proudly.