National Native American Heritage Month

MSgt. Sonya Hildebrand, OO-ALC Equal Opportunity Office.

MSgt. Sonya Hildebrand, OO-ALC Equal Opportunity Office.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- "There was a time when our people covered the whole land as waves of the wind-ruffled sea cover its shell-paved floor" Chief Seattle of Duwamish tribe, 1855 (Maxwell, ed., 1996)

What do you know about Native Americans and their history? Did you know that the Alamo Scouts, a top secret reconnaissance unit in the southwest Pacific during WWII, were recognized by the Army as the forerunners of the modern Special Forces? Or that there are over 562 recognized tribes in the U.S.? November is National Native American Heritage Month. The month is celebrated to educate the public about the heritage, history, and traditions of the Native American people.

This year's Department of Defense theme "Life is Sacred - Celebrate Healthy Native American Communities," focuses on healthy living within Native American communities. The terms Native American and Alaskan Native refers to people having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment.

I feel it is important for all Americans to learn more about the history of Native Americans. Since the revolutionary war, Native Americans have played a vital role in our nation's security. Thousands proudly serve in all departments of the United States Government today. According to the Census Bureau, there are over 4 million people who are of Native American/Alaskan Native descent. Some scholars maintain that the Native American population use to be between 60 and 112 million during pre-Columbian times - a far cry from their current numbers. A lot has changed but Native American culture continues to persevere.

The theme of "Life is Sacred - Celebrate Healthy Native American Communities," is especially poignant to many Native Americans today. There are many social issues that plague some of the tribes such as limited job opportunities, isolation, poverty, alcoholism, and suicide that have affected the nutrition and health of the communities. Stereotypical assumptions that the tribes are doing fine because they have their casinos, etc. to help them economically are not true for many. The reality is still one of a struggle to survive.

As you think about the month and what it represents, challenge yourself to learn more about this ancient and vibrant culture. Their history and achievements are an inspiration to us all.