FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Soldiers, Family Members and civilians of many different cultures gathered to celebrate the accomplishments and service of Native Americans during the National Native American Heritage Month observance Nov. 17 at the Commons.

"Service, Honor, Respect: Strengthening Our Culture and Communities," was the theme of this year's event.

"The importance of observing National Native American Heritage Month is to enhance cross-cultural awareness and understanding among the Fort Drum community," said Sgt. 1st Class Armando Bueno, 10th Mountain Division (LI) equal opportunity adviser. "There are six federally recognized Indian tribes in New York that many people may not know about."

One of those tribes, the Oneida Indian Nation, sent one of their educators to the event to share part of their culture, Bueno added.

"This is just a small part of a rich culture," he said. "Our Army is very diverse, and through observances, we can enhance and promote teamwork and esprit among all groups in order to accomplish our mission."

In his presidential proclamation, President Barack Obama said, "This month, we celebrate the rich heritage and myriad contributions of American Indians and Alaska natives, and we rededicate ourselves to supporting tribal sovereignty, tribal self-determination and prosperity for all Native Americans. We will seek to strengthen our nation-to-nation relationship by ensuring tribal nations have a voice in shaping national policies impacting tribal communities."

Kandice Watson, a member of the Oneida Indian Nation's Wolf Clan, was guest speaker at Fort Drum's observance. Watson, who serves as the director of outreach for the Oneida Nation, speaks at area schools to enhance the curriculum in American Indian heritage and history.

During her presentation, Watson taught those in attendance how to make a cornhusk doll, also known as a "faceless doll," while she told her tribe's story of the doll's origin.
Many years ago, Oneida Indians lived on a diet of beans, squash and especially corn. The tribe also used cornhusks to weave rugs and mats, among other things.

"Every part of the corn was used," Watson said. "The corn spirit would watch the people and see how thankful and appreciative they were of the corn."

One day, Watson said, the spirit sent down a beautiful doll in the corn spirit's image to live with the people. The doll would teach and play with the children, and make the people happy. Over time, the doll became vain and spent a lot of time gazing at her reflection.

The Earth's creator reminded the doll of her purpose, but she didn't listen, Watson continued. The creator told an owl to snatch the doll's reflection.

"The owl snatched her reflection off the water, and from that time forward, she had no face," Watson said. "We do not put a face on this doll."

"The moral of the story is that beauty is on the inside, not on the outside," she continued. "Also, if you are sent to do a job, do your job and do it well."

Letia Hammond, a Fort Drum spouse, came to the event with her children. She said since Fort Drum is so diverse, teaching her children about different cultures makes them more well-rounded and respectful of others.

"(My friends and I) like to bring our children to these events because we're all international, so we like to bring them out and expose them to different types of cultures and heritages, and learn about their ways of life," she said. "We try to come to all of the heritage observances. I'm really glad that Fort Drum has them for us."

During the observance, attendees dined on salmon cakes, pork fry bread, skillet chicken and vegetables, and green beans and peppers.