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Pow Wows:

Preserving the rich heritage of Native Americans

From the famous Navajo code talkers to Medal of Honor recipients like Army Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez, Native Americans have served in every American war since the Revolution.

According to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, more than 154,000 American Indians and Alaskan Natives served in the military from 1990 to 2010, out of more than 21.8 million total service members. With a long lineage of service, they have played a vital role in both the military and our country's history.

"We take pride in defending those who can't defend themselves," said 1st Lt. Thomas Bluestone, an Army officer and a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes - Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara. "It's tied to our history of our people. Most all of the males in my family have served. My dad served, all my siblings served, my uncles - they've all served in the armed forces. It's an honor to serve."

November is American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month and a time to reflect on the impact Native Americans have had, not only in the military, but throughout the nation. It is also a chance for others to learn about their traditions and customs. Bluestone urged both his fellow military members and civilians to do this by attending a Native American pow wow.
Photo collage of a pow wow.

"A pow wow is a celebration where people come together and take part in our dancing," explained Bluestone. "We come here, share our culture and dance our distinct styles, but it's different from ceremonial. It's really a spectator-oriented event and one way to keep our culture alive."

Different styles of dancing are typically performed at pow wows, including men's traditional, men's grass dance, men's fancy, women's fancy, women's jingle and women's traditional. Each style has a different origin significant to certain tribes.

"What I was told was that we were like an advance party to either a hunt or war," said Bluestone, a grass dancer. "We would go out and clear an area in the dark. Then the people that were following along behind us, they could look at the grass, clearly see that is has been stomped down and that we have cleared that area. So, they [knew] they could move into it safely."
Photo collage of a pow wow.

Such dances take years to perfect; therefore, many Native American children begin to learn the dances and tradition behind pow wows at young ages.

"I grew up going to pow wows in Albuquerque [New Mexico] and surrounding areas," said Janelle Naranjo, a Marine veteran. "Both my father and mother are Pueblo Indians. I'm from the reservation of Santa Ana. There's pow wows housed in our reservation. So, I grew up knowing, dancing and participating in traditional ceremonies."

In addition to dancing, pow wows feature storytelling, handmade souvenirs and traditional dishes such as corn soup, buffalo stew and fry bread. Also, like many other cultural events, there are certain customs to follow.

"When you come to a pow wow, we have etiquette," said Bluestone. "You want to ask a dancer if you can take a picture. We stand for certain songs, like when our flag song plays. It's the equivalent to a national anthem so we stand to pay our respects. We're really accepting to people coming to learn.

"I would urge a lot of people just to Google search Native American pow wows," he encouraged. "Read about what it is and then read the calendar that shows all of the upcoming pow wows. Almost any place across the United States, you can find a pow wow. The next step would be to physically come and watch it."