By Catherine Ross (Fort Carson)November 29, 2012
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Nearly 100 members of the Fort Carson community enjoyed a breadth of Native American culture, religion and cuisine at the Elkhorn Conference Center, Nov. 19.
The Equal Opportunity Program's observance of National Native American Heritage Month tied the ethnic history and values with military service.
"In part, a warrior tradition is the willingness to engage the enemy in battle. This characteristic has been clearly demonstrated by the courageous deeds of Native Americans in combat," said Amber Hargrove, event emcee.
Guest speaker Dr. Bernice Forrest, associate professor of history at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, also paid tribute to military service by explaining how her father, who served in the Army during World War II, taught her about courage. She also highlighted how her mixed backgrounds, which include Montaukett Indian Nation, have enabled her to inherit knowledge from multiple cultures.
"I have pulled complimentary inheritances that have humbled and enriched me," she said.
Marine Corps Gulf War veteran and Lakota spiritual leader Michael Hackwith delivered the event's invocation and performed a song, both in Lakota.
"This is historic. This is the first time Fort Carson has recognized the community within the community," Hackwith said, referring to servicemembers, veterans and Families who gather at the "He Ska Akicita Inipi,"
or White Mountain Warriors Lodge, at Turkey Creek Recreational Area for Native American spiritual ceremonies.
Air Force Master Sgt. Kevin Cheek, a Cherokee, enriched the observance with a dance performance wearing a traditional Native American fancy dancer's costume. Adorned with eagle, turkey and chicken feathers, Cheek explained the significance of the components and colors, and provided background on the dance.
"Each dance has its own origins," he said. "My style mimics a bird in flight."
Eddie Three Eagles, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War who is part Cherokee and part Mescalero Apache, performed the song "Red, White and Blue" on the flute.
"I do this in honor of all the warriors present, past and future," he said.
The event concluded with a sampling of authentic Native American dishes including beef stew, corn, fry bread and sweet potato and fruit dishes.
"Fort Carson has eight ethnic and special observances throughout the year," said Lt. Col. David Cushen, 4th Infantry Division Equal Opportunity Program manager.
"November is the month to honor Native Americans and Alaskan Natives. These are two distinct groups, but we combine them because they are both native to the geography of the United States.
"We want to not only honor them, but also educate non-Native Americans and Alaskans, and pay tribute to their continued contributions in culture and military service," he said.
"I think this is a great thing Fort Carson is doing," said Capt. Nicholas Kucan, who is with the Warrior Transition Battalion.
The dance performance and presentation by Cheek stood out for Kucan.
"I didn't know the dances were newer, that the dances were continuing to evolve."
Brig. Gen. Darsie Rogers, deputy commanding general for support, 4th Inf. Div., presented certificates of appreciation to the guest speakers and performers prior to addressing the audience.
"Today we celebrate the theme of service: the service of Native Americans, service to our nation, service to our future generations.
"Native American and Alaskan Natives represent just under 2 percent of the population of the United States," said Rogers. "Based on their population, they represent the largest percentage of servicemembers in our armed forces.
"Native Americans and Alaskan Natives honor our nation and serve with quiet pride, sense of community, discipline and selfless caring."