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Diversity

Danielle DeCoteau

Navy Veteran, Lakota Woman Warrior

Her hair is plaited neatly in two French braids. Her eagle plumes are tied into a piece of hair on top of her head, making them lay gracefully over the left braid. Each braid is wrapped in red cloth with beaded blue hair ties; dentalium shells are attached to each end. She is wearing a red United Women's Veterans Association long sleeve shirt, a blue ribbon skirt she made herself, beaded blue leggings and moccasins.



Danielle DeCoteau, Navy veteran and a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Sioux Tribe, is in Denver for the 44th Annual Denver March Powwow. She carries the U.S. flag for the Lakota Women Warriors, a Native American veterans group. DeCoteau served in the U.S. Navy from 2001 to 2004 on active duty, then from 2005 to 2011 in the Navy Reserves as an aviation boatswain's mate (fuel).

The Lakota Women Warriors and two other women's Native American veteran groups make up the United Women's Veterans Association. Together with the Native American Women Warriors, the association members carried the colors for each grand entry at the Denver March Powwow, held March 23 to 25, 2018.

"Joining the military was tradition, and it's our duty as Natives to protect our lands and our people. We are known as Akicita, which means 'warriors' or 'protectors,'" said DeCoteau. "It's an honor to be a veteran, serving this country and protecting the lands that are ours. If we can't protect this land, how are we going to protect the people? And being part of the warrior society, it's a part of who we are to protect our people, our land, and it goes for the same for any other nationality that lives within this country.

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"Being the oldest of my dad's kids, I felt I had a calling to follow the footsteps of my great-grandfathers, grandfathers, my uncles and my dad to serve, so that is what I set out to do," she continued. "I also am very happy because being in the Navy, I was broken down and built back up to be the person I am today. I'm not afraid of a challenge; I have a voice and I am a mentor, not only for my kids but for our youth within my community."

DeCoteau joined the Navy in January 2001 and was assigned to USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). The ship was returning to San Diego after completing work-ups when 9-11 happened.

"I was working night check at the time; it was the end of my shift and I was supposed to be delivering the flight plan of the day. I was walking the mess decks and saw the TV; the first tower had just been hit. I thought it was a movie until I saw 'breaking news.' Then I saw the other tower hit; that's when I ran up to the flight deck control. We could see San Diego from a distance. I was told we would be going to war; we were going to have to settle all our personal things to get ready to deploy.

"A few weeks later, my ship was loaded and we were heading out. I remember once we got to the Gulf, our planes were being loaded with live missiles and coming back empty. That's when reality hit: They were no longer using the blue missiles. They were using the yellow for live ammunition! Then that's when work really began and I was mentally ready for anything to happen."

Despite the danger of wartime service, DeCoteau loved being on deployment and being out on the water. She enjoyed supporting the mission and working in the organized chaos of the flight deck.

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"I know it may sound different, but I love the smell of the exhaust working up on the flight deck, all the action — that's what I loved," she said.

One of her favorite, albeit less intense, Navy memories is also from 2001. She and a fellow Native American Sailor asked their commanding officer if they could honor Native Americans on Columbus Day, calling it Native American Heritage Day. The CO agreed and allowed them to share their culture, and how proud they are as individuals and as a people.

"It was really awesome getting to share our experiences and a little bit of our culture," said DeCoteau. "Not only that, we got to show how to make fry bread in the chiefs mess!"

When she returned home to South Dakota after her time in the military in 2012, she realized there were a lot of tribal veterans who had also served in Iraq and Afghanistan. She started the Desert Era Veterans at her tribe to help them cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma (MST), and separation from the military. She didn't want anyone to feel like he or she had to deal with PTSD or MST alone.

Her goal, she said, was "just being able to let them know that we are there, that I'm there for them, and that we can get the help that we need so that they don't have to deal with the traumatic issues that they've seen, that they've dealt with, alone. We also stopped a few from suicide; suicide prevention is huge. Basically, we helped save each other's lives. That is how I look at it."

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Five years later, she decided to step down as the Desert Era Veterans commander and join the Lakota Women Warriors, which started in 2014 at the Black Hills Powwow in Rapid City, South Dakota. She said it helped to be around other female veterans.

"The women's group formed to show their empowerment and strength by coming together as women who have served in the military," explained DeCoteau. "We became mentors to the youth in our communities, sharing our military experiences and information about suicide prevention. We come from all over, different walks of life and different tribes. We travel nationally and internationally as spokespeople and show our support with the honor guard group. I just felt it's really important that we show who we are to the people and also a little bit of information of what the military has to offer."

Over her years with the Lakota Women Warriors, she has been the head woman veteran dancer in New York, and has brought the colors in for NFL and WNBA games, Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeos, and Professional Bull Riders events, as well as numerous national and international powwows.

"I felt like these ladies saved me," continued DeCoteau. "I no longer felt alone as a woman veteran because in the military and in veteran organizations, no matter where you go, women are always outnumbered. Being with these ladies has been a real delight because we have that sister-bond like you get when you're in the military. We always have each other's backs; we can always count on them to be there in our time of need, or when we just need that extra shoulder to lean on. Being in the military, I have built bonds that I know will be there for a lifetime."

Author's Note: I, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anita Chebahtah Newman, am full-blooded Native American. My mom is Arapaho and my dad is Comanche, both from Oklahoma. This is part three of a multi-part series about Native American culture and its many ties to the military. Read part one here and part two here.