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National Native American Heritage Month celebrates unity, service

By Lori Newman | Brooke Army Medical Center Public Affairs | Dec. 7, 2017


Brooke Army Medical Center celebrated Native American Heritage Month Nov. 29 with a ceremony in the Medical Mall.

Many people may not realize that Native American Heritage Month is celebrated in November because it’s the end of the harvest season; it wasn’t based on Thanksgiving, explained Erwin De Luna, guest speaker for the event. 

De Luna is the president of the board of directors for the United San Antonio Pow Wow, Inc. and has served in the San Antonio community for more than 40 years through various organizations.

Army Col. Traci Crawford, BAMC deputy commanding officer, provided opening remarks for the event.

Crawford said this year’s theme, “Standing Together,” fits well within the military culture and our country.

“Native Americans have fought in every war since America’s founding and have taken their rightful place as heroes in our nation's history,” she said. “Historically, American Indians have the highest record of military service per capita as compared to other ethnic groups.”

Today there are more than 15,000 active duty service members who are of American Indian or Alaska Native descent serving in our military and more than 6,400 Department of Defense civilians.

Crawford spoke to the audience about the American Indian code talkers who served during World War I and World War II, highlighting Clarence Wolf Guts who enlisted in the Army in 1942 at the age of 18. Wolf Guts was fluent in Lakota, a dialect of Sioux. He developed a phonetic alphabet based on the Lakota language, which was later developed into code.

“These code talkers saved countless American lives by stopping the enemy from gaining valuable information that could have been used to harm our troops,” Crawford said.

De Luna’s presentation emphasized the accomplishments of several Native Americans and Alaskan Natives in American history. He also discussed the long lineage of military service within his own family.

“Many tribal names that you hear across the country translate into ‘the people,’” De Luna said. “That’s who we believe we are – the people of this land.

“Many of the foods we eat and the medicines we use were introduced to us by Indians,” De Luna added. “Indians have made contributions in every area of America.”

After his remarks, De Luna and his wife, Rose Mary, led the audience in a traditional Native American dance.

“I have participated in American Indian dance and heritage since I was 12 years old,” he said. “Now my family continues that tradition.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Diamond Hough closed the event, thanking De Luna for his remarks and continued contributions to the San Antonio community.

 “Please remember, no matter your religion, ethnicity, gender or ancestry -- we are all brothers and sisters on the battlefield,” Hough said. “America’s diversity has always been one of our great strengths as people from different backgrounds and cultures offer their unique talents and perspectives. That’s what makes us strong and who we are.”