ANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Living history portrayals of some of the most famous Native Americans in history and a key note speech by the highest ranking enlisted Native American soldier in the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Sgt. Lester Day, highlighted Regional Command-South’s National Native American Heritage Month Observance here on Nov. 22.
The annual observance celebrates the achievements and accomplishments of Native Americans and is a culmination of National Native American Heritage Month. President George H.W. Bush approved a joint resolution in 1990 stating November will annually be recognized as National American Indian Heritage Month.
Day, whose personal Native American heritage stems from the Cowlitz Tribe in northern Washington, noted it is no coincidence that the National Native American Heritage Month Observance is in the same month as Thanksgiving.
“It is common in our culture to use the month of November to give thanks for our abundant blessings,” said Day, who began his career in Army aviation in 1987. “It is also an appropriate time to remember the many ways Native Americans contributed to the settling of the foundation of America.
“Without the help and support of Native Americans, there would not be an America as we know it today.”
Day did not gloss over the fact that Native American history has often been marred by violence and mistreatment and emphasized future cooperation for a stronger nation.
“For centuries, Native Americans faced cruelty, injustice and broken promises,” Day said. “As we work together to forge a brighter future, we cannot shy away from the difficult aspects of the past.”
Day also reminded troops about Army aviation’s close tie with Native American heritage, noting how the Army’s aircraft have typically been named after Native American tribes, chiefs and terms since 1969. He said the names are picked for the sound, history and relationship of the name to the mission of the aircraft, suggesting an aggressive spirit and confidence in the capability of the aircraft.
The list of aircraft in the Army fleet based on Native American names currently includes: AH-64 Apache, OH-58 Kiowa Warrior, OH-6 Cayuse, UH-1 Iroquois, UH-72 Lakota, UH-60 Black Hawk, MH-47 Chinook and TH-67 Creek.
Early in the ceremony, the past came to life as four soldiers portrayed some of the most visible Native Americans in history – Chief Pontiac, Kateri Tekakwitha, Crazy Horse, and James “Jim” Thorpe – during the living history portrayal segment of the observance. Each soldier embodied the persona of their character as they recounted the lives and achievements of their respective historical figure.
Chief Pontiac was a Native American leader who became famous for his role in Pontiac’s Rebellion, a Native American struggle against the British military occupation of the Great Lakes region following the British victory in the French and Indian Wars.
Tekakwitha, who lived in the 1600s, is a Catholic saint. She was canonized on Oct. 21 by Pope Benedict XV1 in Vatican City.
Crazy Horse was the war leader of the Oglala Lakota and took up arms against the U.S. government to fight against encroachment and the Lakota way of life. He led his war party to victory at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.
Jim Thorpe won two gold medals in the 1912 Olympics and is considered one of the most versatile athletes in history. He is one of just a few athletes to play professional football, baseball and basketball.
Also during his speech, Day paid tribute to the most decorated Native American to ever serve in the U.S. armed forces, Boatswain’s Mate Chief James Williams. Williams was a Congressional Medal of Honor Winner who passed away in 1999; he earned so many awards during his career that he unofficially became known as the Navy’s “Most Decorated Enlisted Sailor.”
Day closed the ceremony by thanking all of the attendees with the Native American word, “A-Key-Yeh,” for taking the time to pay honor and tribute to Native American heritage.
“It’s been a true honor to share my pride, my heart and my heritage with you,” Day said.