By Rachel Ponder, APG NewsNovember 30, 2011
Native American history and culture was celebrated during the Aberdeen Proving Ground annual observance of National American Indian Heritage Month at the APG Post Theater Nov. 17. Wanda "Singing Wind" Fortune, a descendant of Pocahontas, spoke about what the theme of the event, "Service, Honor, Respect: Strengthening Our Cultures and Communities," meant to her.
Fortune, who has been an active member of the Rappahannock Tribe in Virginia from a very young age and performs traditional dances at pow-wows throughout the year, believes it is important to educate others about Rappahannock history and traditions.
"The history books do not say much about the Virginia Indians, so it is up to our people to tell others about our history," Fortune said. "The Virginia Indians stood their ground and did not go west to live on the reservations. Because of this, they endured persecution."
Fortune said that despite the persecution that her people have faced in the past, Native Americans have a long history of serving in the military. Currently 35,000 Native American Indians are serving in the active duty and reserve forces. Twelve thousand Native Americans Indians served in World War I; 44,000 served in World War 2; 15,000 saw action in the Korean War and 42,000 served in Vietnam- 90 percent who fought volunteered.
"We hold strength, honor, and pride in people, devotion and wisdom, and spiritual strength in high esteem" Fortune said. "These traits are a perfect fit for serving in the military. "One of the main reasons that America prospers today is because of our warriors; they died to save our country and protect our freedom."
Fortune said that Native Americans celebrated Thanksgiving before the Europeans came to America as November was set aside as the time to celebrate their harvest and hard work accomplished during the year.
"Thanksgiving is a way that we show respect and say 'thank you' to nature and the creator," she said.
The program also featured several traditional pow-wow dances by Fortune's husband, retired Col. John "Swift Fox" Fortune. Fortune, who was dressed in traditional regalia, said that all Native American dances have symbolic meaning.
Sgt. 1st Class Stephanie Brown, from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, who is half-Kiowa and half-Comanche Indian, also talked about the importance of celebrating Native American Indian history.
"Native American Indian culture is not just my own, it belongs to everyone in the audience today," Brown said. "It is American history."
Also participating in the program was Courtney Payne of the Army Developmental Test Command, who opened the program by singing the national anthem, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Jerry Owens from the U.S. Army Research Development Engineering Command, and Col. William H. Montgomery III, Communications Electronics Command chief of staff.
After the program attendees viewed cultural displays including an edible wild plant display from Al Milliner, and Native American art. Attendees also sampled traditional Native American Indian food--buffalo chili, turkey stew and fried bread.
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