JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
The contributions of Native Americans to the U.S. military and to the history of San Antonio were recognized Nov. 16 during the National American Indian Heritage Month Observance held in Blesse Auditorium at the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School, located at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
The observance included remarks from Maj. Gen. Brian Lein, AMEDDC&S commanding general, and Ramon Vasquez, executive director and tribal historian for American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions, or AITSCM. AITSCM is a non-profit organization that works to protect and preserve the culture and traditions of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation and the indigenous population residing in Central and South Texas.
Since 1990, November has been designated as National American Indian Heritage Month, which recognizes the accomplishments and contributions of Native Americans who were the original inhabitants and settlers in the U.S.
Lein said Native Americans have a longstanding history of serving in the U.S. military with distinction and great courage.
“Historically, American Indians have the highest record of military service per capita when compared to all the other ethnic groups,” Lein said. “Today, more than 9,000 Native Americans wear the cloth of our nation.”
By observing National American Indian Heritage Month, Lein said he is encouraging the Army family to recognize and express appreciation for the past and present contributions of Native American Soldiers, veterans, civilians and military family members.
Lein pointed out the contributions made by Native American service members in World War II, including Ira Hayes, one of six service members who raised the U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, the names of Native Americans who were awarded the Medal of Honor for their valor, and doctors and nurses of Native American descent who served in AMEDD.
“These are just a few of the many examples of honor and courage displayed by Native Americans,” he said.
Vasquez said archeological evidence proves that Native Americans have been in the San Antonio area for at least 10,000 years, and where here when the first Spanish settlers arrived and established San Antonio in 1718.
While speaking, he sang a Native American song in which the words he used in the Native American language translates into “welcome to the land of the spirit waters, welcome to Yanaguana.” Yanaguana was the name given to present day San Antonio by the Papaya Indians before the arrival of the Spanish.
Vasquez said the five Spanish missions in San Antonio are burial sites for Native Americans, including the documentation of 1,400 that are buried in front of the Alamo.
“Our people are still here,” Vasquez said. “We’ve made constant contributions to the history of San Antonio. Archeology at the Alamo says we have been here 10,000 years. Since 10,000 years ago, we have been making contributions to this land.”
In the 1740s, Vasquez said 100 Native Americans from Mission San Antonio de Valero, known as the Alamo, fought off a group of Apache Indians who were about to attack the Canary Islanders settling in San Antonio for Spain.
Vasquez said the actions of those Native Americans who fought off the Apaches helped to preserve the settlement of San Antonio because if the settlers had been annihilated, the Spanish may have decided to leave San Antonio.
In concluding his remarks, Vasquez said Native Americans are still making contributions to the area and the U.S. in several occupations, including the military. He thanked the service members gathered in the auditorium for their service.
Dressed in Native American regalia, Isaac Cardenas and Jose Garcia II, members of the American Indians in Texas Dance Theater group, performed Native American dances.
Cardenas, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, spoke to the attendees at the observance after he performed.
“I want to thank every one of you for remembering us, the first people,” Cardenas said. “I’m honored to be here and I wish you blessings.”
Lein presented certificates of appreciation to both Vasquez and the dancers from AMEDDC&S. Vasquez was also presented a proclamation recognizing National American Indian Heritage Month in San Antonio from Mayor Ron Nirenberg.
After the conclusion of the ceremony, attendees got to sample Native American foods and view displays about AITSCM set up outside the auditorium.