This May, West Point, The United States Military Academy, gathered its cadets once more along the banks of New York’s Hudson River to celebrate diversity of races, cultures and traditions and thank Native Americans for their military service. The Third Annual Keepers of Peace Pow Wow, on May 6, was held at West Point’s Trophy Point Amphitheater. The event which was well received, featured drumming, singing, story telling, craft vendors and intertribal and specialty dancing—in traditional categories for men and women.
The student body or Corps of Cadet number 4,400 in a school year. There are over 40 American Indians that belong to the Native American Forum, the club formed to support their transition from civilian to a cadet, and from cadet to an officer.
The club offers American Indians the opportunity to learn their heritage and to attend pow wows, conferences and educational forums outside the Academy. It also hosts the Native American Heritage Month Dinner and Celebration in November.
West Point, founded in 1802 and counts leaders such as President Dwight David Eisenhower, Robert Lee and Central Intelligence Director David Petraeus among its distinguished graduates, keep cadets busy with extra-curricular activities. The Native American Forum is only one of the over 50 cadet activities.
One of the active members of the forum is Cadet Sallena Samuel, a Pueblo Indian and sophomore at West Point, planned and attended the pow wow. “I really had a great time. It was great to showcase the Native American culture with the West Point community and the surrounding communities.”
Samuel said she also enjoys interacting with the other American Indians in the club. “We can get together, exchange cultures and attend pow wows. You learn a lot about working with others when you plan the pow wow.”
The club drew her interest because of her heritage. “What I like most is the friendships I made in the club,” she said, adding that she would never meet the other natives in West Point if not for the club because they belonged to different companies and joined other clubs.
“The very first pow wow in 2010 was a huge change. It was the first time it was done in the history of West Point. We want to grow it in size,” said Lieutenant Colonel Mark Smith, who is also the officer in charge of West Point’s Native American Forum that initiated the annual gathering.
“One real message is to inspire other Native Americans that West Point is an option for them and that we welcome students of different cultures,” said Smith, adding that pow wows showcase the students as professionals and willing to serve the nation.
Graduating seniors got a treat, at the gathering, with an honor dance dedicated to them. Elders offered prayers for them.
Smith said they called on the Redhawk Native American Council, an organization that has been very helpful to cadets, to be the arena director and master of ceremony.
“Today, we are gathered along the banks of the river the Lenni Lenape people named Mahicannituck, and themselves the Muh-he-con-neck, the People of the Waters That are Never Still. Today, the river is called the Hudson, and the people are called Mohicans,” said Smith at the gathering.
“So, we ask ourselves, why a powwow, why West Point? Well, the answer is simple. A pow wow means a gathering of people across this country, a people of different races, different cultures and different traditions.”
Smith said the gathering also celebrates the cadets of West Point, who for four years struggle physically, militarily, ethically, spiritually, and socially to become commissioned leaders of character committed to the institution’s espoused values of duty, honor and country. These cadets, he said, prepare for a career of professional excellence and service to the nation as an officer in the United States Army.
As to why Cade Samuel chose West Point, she said, “I wanted to serve the country since I was 14. I chose West Point for the challenges it presents. I will come out of West Point as an army officer and ready to serve the country.”
She added, “I am proud of the fact that Native Americans played a role in the defense of our nation during various conflicts. My grandfather served in the Navy. My older brother served in Army and was deployed in Iraq.”