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Solemn dance highlights American Indian Heritage Day

By Robert Goetz | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Sept. 30, 2019

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —

Attired in colorful regalia and lifting their feet in time to the steady cadence of drumbeats, military veterans danced in place around Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph’s Taj Mahal flag pole on a still Friday morning last week.

Paying tribute to their American Indian ancestry and to the past and present contributions of tens of thousands of American Indians to their country, the veterans performed an abbreviated version of the centuries-old gourd dance, a solemn dance that began with the Kiowa tribe and featured special rattles held by the dancers that were originally made from rawhide or a gourd.

The dance,  hosted by the JBSA-Randolph American Indian Heritage Committee, highlighted American Indian Heritage Day in Texas at JBSA-Randolph Sept. 27, a tribute to the American Indians who have served their country since the American Revolution.

“According to Department of Defense demographics, American Indians have served in the U.S. military in greater numbers per capita than any other ethnic group,” said Edward Blauvelt, committee chairman. “They have served with distinction in every major conflict since the Revolutionary War and still do today.”

Lenny Medina, a former Air Force technical sergeant, who was one of the dancers, said he takes part in gourd dances throughout the year.

“We take this business very seriously,” he said. “The gourd dance is a dance that was passed on from the Kiowa tribe. It’s more of a prayer than anything else.”

Medina, who is part Kickapoo, is chairman of the Traditional American Indian Society, whose members served as the event’s honor guard.

In addition to the gourd dance, the event featured a tribute to America’s POW/MIA service members and the placement of flags representing American Indian tribes in Texas around the base of the United States flag.

A host of distinguished visitors, including commanders and vice commanders from JBSA-Randolph, as well as mayors and council members from nearby communities, attended the annual event.

Honorees Chief Master Sgt. Jason Dahlquist, 12th Flying Training Wing command chief master sergeant, and Rick Jellison, Air Force Security Assistance Training Squadron executive director, participated in the gourd dance at one point, stepping into the circle around the flag pole and receiving a ceremonial rattle and fan.

Texas House Bill 174, signed by then-Gov. Rick Perry May 10, 2013, created American Indian Heritage Day in Texas to recognize the many historical, cultural and social contributions American Indians have made to the state.

American Indians’ devotion to country is especially significant, said Blauvelt, who is of Mohawk and Muscogee ancestry.

“For the past 243 years, American Indians have served their country in every position from scout and translator to code talker and general,” he said. “America must remember we are still here, we make major contributions to our great nation and we love our land.”