Veterans are guests of honor at powwowMore than 300 veterans were honored during the 20th Annual Veterans Powwow, held on the Mash-ka-wisen powwow grounds on the Fond du Lac Reservation last Friday through Sunday. It was a powerful experience for many.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Traditionally, Native American warriors protected their communities and lands. But being a warrior was about more than fighting the enemy. It was about caring for people and helping in any way they could, even by laying down their own lives, the National Museum of the American Indian website explains.
It was an honor to serve.
This weekend, it was the veterans who were honored during the 20th Annual Veterans Powwow, held on the Mash-ka-wisen powwow grounds on the Fond du Lac Reservation Friday through Sunday.
“We counted over 300 veterans in the powwow arena,” said Chuck Smith, Fond du Lac Veterans Service director. “They just kept coming out and coming out.”
Rocky Wilkinson was one of those veterans. Wilkinson was honored twice: once for being on the original veterans committee organizing the powwow and also for being a Vietnam veteran.
Wilkinson said he truly enjoyed the powwow experience, especially being there with his fellow veterans.
“With us Vietnam guys, there’s a different camaraderie, a different aura between us, whether you know them or not,” he said. “It was just plain nice, I guess.”
All of the veterans were honored after the Grand Entry Friday evening, Smith explained. One by one, they were called out by name, branch of service and where they served.
According to www.history.navy.mil, Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita when compared to other ethnic groups. More than 12,000 Native Americans served in the United States military in World War I, about 25 percent of the male American Indian population at that time. In World War II, more than 44,000 — out of a total Native American population of less than 350,000 — served with distinction in both European and Pacific theaters of war. More than 42,000 Native Americans, more than 90 percent of them volunteers, fought in Vietnam.
Smith — a Vietnam veteran himself — rattled off a list of wars and conflicts that were represented at the powwow.
World War II
The Bay of Pigs
“Just about every conflict, every executive order where a President sent in troops,” Smith said. “Men, women, all ages. It was a very diverse population of veterans.”
Smith estimated close to 6,000 people attended the three-day event. On Tuesday — still in recovery mode from the weekend — he said favorable posts still were popping up on Facebook and YouTube.
“They say there was something special in this powwow,” he said, agreeing with the posts. “Everyone seemed to feel it.”
Although the powwow is a distinctly Native American event — featuring traditional dancing, drumming, food and other cultural activities — Smith said the powwow is to honor all veterans, native or non-native, band members or not, serving during war or peacetime.
It can be a very powerful experience, the Veterans Service director said, telling how a veteran approached the Band’s secretary/treasurer at the casino to say thank you (the Reservation Business Committee pays for the powwow and related expenses). The veteran said he’d “never felt such pride” about being a veteran before.
That’s what it’s all about.
“The powwow is for the veterans,” Smith said, adding that he is surprised to still find veterans who don’t realize the powwow is held specifically to honor veterans. “You see the camaraderie, the handshakes, everyone welcoming one another.
“It makes the veterans feel good. I can see it on their faces.”
Of course, the powwow also has its somber moments.
At 3 p.m. on Sunday — after the Honor Guard presented arms and saluted the dead — Smith played “Taps” on his trumpet to honor the veterans who have passed on, including his father (a Korean War veteran with two Purple Heart medals), who died four years ago. Again, a list of names was read, although this time the veterans weren’t there to step forward.
“I look out and I see the people remembering their loved ones,” Smith said. “They shed a tear — I do too.”