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History and Heritage

Indian Chief

Native Pride and Spirit: Yesterday, Today and Forever

Each year since 1994, November has been the month to honor Native American and Alaska Natives. There are posters, themes and ceremonies centered on the history and heritage of these men and women. But behind the big stories of an entire race of people, are the people themselves, and their individual stories.

One of those people is Senior Chief Yeoman Jaunette (Jay) Martin. Her family sometimes refers to her by her tribe name Long Leg Lady. As a Sailor, she may not be a chief in her tribe, but she is one in ours.

Martin is not the only person in her family to serve in the military. Her grandfather was a gunner's mate, her uncle joined the Army and served in Iraq, her cousins both joined the Marines, and her great grandfather served as a Marine and was one of the original code talkers in WWII. Martin is the only female of her family to join the military and to date and has remained on duty longer than the men in her family, a fact she takes a lot of pride in.

As a Navajo Indian born in Colorado Springs, her childhood had its share of ups and downs. When her father got out of the Army, they moved back to his home on the reservation in Arizona. Soon after separation he was killed in an accident. Martin was two at the time.

"Growing up on the reservation, we didn't have running water and we often had to haul water to cook our food, bathe and wash laundry," said Martin. "Using an outhouse was a common practice. These days, they've installed water lines and things are much better."

Martin said her father's side of the family was more traditional than her mothers.

"Each time we visited them we spoke Navajo, they understood English, but preferred Navajo," said Martin. "My grandmother and grandfather's marriage was an arranged marriage. She was 20 years younger, but over the years she grew to love him. This was often the case on the reservation."

Martin also attended ceremonies where a medicine man would do rituals; she attended pow-wows (traditional dances) and rodeos.

"We herded our cows from the mountains before winter and back during the summer, said Martin. "We believe in spirits, and the stories passed down from our ancestors."

Martin recalls one afternoon spent with her grandmother.

"I stayed with my grandma once and she baked this sheep head in the ground. Well, she made me eat the brains 'so you will always make the right decision in your life and be smart,' she made me eat the eyeballs 'so you will always have the sight to see things clearly' (btw, I've always had 20/20), and then the tongue (yes, the tongue!) 'so that you will speak up and voice your opinions when needed.' I'd be lost without her."

Since joining the Navy, Martin said her children do things she couldn't have imagined doing as a young girl.

"Wearing shorts, cheerleading, anything that seemed inappropriate to my grandparents," said Martin. "I have tried to pass on what was instilled in me, both through my upbringing and the Navy, and they are actually well behaved. When I was deployed with the USS George Washington my girls stayed with my mom. They had the opportunity to learn more about their culture, and be around it on a daily basis. They have learned their clans, learned to speak Navajo, and have danced in pow-wows. It is great that they have had the opportunity to see what I only spoke about."

When Martin decided to join the Navy, her family was initially against it. It was tradition for a women's place to be in the home and with her family. Despite many of her male family members joining, she got significant pushback.

"I just couldn't give them a choice at that point," said Martin. It was finally about me and my family was just going to have to suck it up."

Coming up through the ranks, Martin said she never felt any type of discrimination.

"When I speak about my background, everyone is very interested," said Martin. "I would joke and tell them I lived in a two-story tee-pee. I think being a female was more of the challenge, always trying to be better than my male counterparts, even to this day."

Martin continues to involve herself and her girls in as much of the culture as she can, looking for opportunities locally for her girls to get involved in pow-wows and participating as much as she can in ceremonies during November, Native American Heritage month.

"I speak Navajo and teach them Navajo," said Martin. "I teach them about the culture, as much as I can from morning rituals to prayer. I teach them about the time when a girl becomes a woman, this is a yearlong ritual for us."
Navy Photo

Martin's grandfather, Carl Gorman was one of the original code talkers. Here he is with the Marines in Saipan in 1944.

She also shares with them stories about her great grandfather and his service to the country.

"I'm proud of all of the men who did what they did during World War II, but I'm more proud to say my great-grandfather was among them," said Martin. "I wish when I was younger I realized all his accomplishments and asked endless questions. I was too young; I listened to him and then carried on playing. His accomplishments have made me feel like I can do whatever I want. When he was young he would get punished for speaking anything other than English, so to know that our language would save so many lives and have him looked upon as a hero lets me know how special it really is."

Martin added, "My ancestors went through the pain and hardship of being forced from homes onto reservations during the "Long Walk" to Fort Sumner. However, I think today we have as much opportunity to get out and make something of ourselves. I think when we stop blaming and looking at the past is when we can move forward. I have chosen to stop looking back. Instead I consider the opportunities me and my children have, and they are limitless should we choose to pursue them."