NATICK, Mass. (Nov. 16, 2012) -- A member of the Nation of Arawak Indians had a message for the Natick Soldier Systems Center community Nov. 15, when she spoke during NSSC's National Native American Heritage Month observance in Hunter Auditorium.

"We are not all dead," said Claudia Fox Tree of Native Americans. "We're contemporary people."

Fox Tree said that there were once 500 Native American nations in North and South America. She added that the total population dwindled to 237,000 before rebounding to nearly 2 million in present day.

"It's not like you can go anywhere else in the world and find our people," Fox Tree said. "This is it. While we're not where we want to be, we're not where we were. The median age of our population is 29, so we're a young population, so the potential is ahead of us."

A multi-talented Boston native and mother of five -- Fox Tree is a consultant, educator and artist -- seizes every opportunity to inform others about her heritage. It's part of the Native American tradition of storytelling.

"Our stories and our history are related to the foods and the animals that were only in this part of the world," Fox Tree said. "It will always be this land of North and South America that is part of our history.

"What you remember is the most important thing to pass on," she continued. "Culture is dynamic, because you're interacting with people, and things might change."

Fox Tree pointed to the many contributions Native Americans have made to the world, from a variety of foods to aspirin.

"We do live everywhere, but the least number of us live in the Northeast," said Fox Tree, adding that Massachusetts has approximately 51,000 Native Americans. "In this area of the country where we don't have large reservations with many, many Native Americans, we have people from many different nations, and going to a Pow Wow is a way to see everybody in the area."

According to Fox Tree, Native Americans also have adopted Facebook as a means of communication.

"Native Americans, I think, use it more than any other group," said Fox Tree, "because we're so far apart."

Lt. Col. Frank Sobchak, U.S. Army Garrison Natick commander, said that the National Native American Heritage Month program and others like it were important.

"As Americans and as an Army, we truly represent the American culture, represent the American people, and we are a cross-section of those American people," Sobchak said. "And what makes us strong and Army strong is the fact that, despite the fact we all have our own hyphenated identities, we respect all those differences and we work together for a common goal."