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Lt. Col. James Davidson looks at displays during a National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month commemoration ceremony Wednesday at the Dragon Hill Lodge on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.
Lt. Col. James Davidson looks at displays during a National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month commemoration ceremony Wednesday at the Dragon Hill Lodge on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. (T.D. Flack / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Base residents got a glimpse of American Indian and Alaskan native heritage during a commemoration ceremony at the Dragon Hill Lodge on Wednesday.

The Area II and installation event was sponsored by the U.S. Army Troop Command-Korea and featured the personal experiences of three U.S. soldiers stationed here: Maj. Amy Brinson, Sgt. Matilda Adakai and Maj. Tracey Clyde.

While intertribal songs played softly in the background, Brinson told of attending pow-wows with her father, one of the founders of the Cedar Tree Singers.

The drums, she said, are key to the gatherings, the “heart of it all.”

She said the first thing people do at a pow-wow is honor the veterans. She talked of the women’s beautiful wardrobes and how their footwork while dancing is light and airy, “resembling a butterfly.” Some women, she said, wear 365 small metal combs on their dresses.

Tears came to her eyes as she described how noble the men looked while dancing — including her father, who had passed away.

Adakai is one of only 160,000 people who are fluent in Navajo. She told community members about her people’s history, including U.S. government policies and practices she characterized as efforts to stamp out the language.

She said her mother was one of the children who fled mandatory schooling, where Navajos were forced to speak in English. “My mom only speaks Navajo,” she said. “When I talk to her on the phone, I talk to her in Navajo.”

She said the language was instrumental in World War II, when the Marine Corps recruited 400 Navajos as code talkers.

Clyde said his upbringing on a reservation in Shiprock, N.M., wasn’t extraordinary and doesn’t really differ from upbringings of American Indians who are joining the military today.

He said he dreamed of owning a Ford pickup truck like his father and having a herd of 30 sheep like his grandfather — and joked that a career in the military has been at least as good as his childhood dreams.

Clyde said 13 of his immediate relatives have served and three are deployed in support of Iraqi Freedom, that “being a member of the military is a time-honored tradition” for American Indians.

He also warned those in attendance to be prepared to learn to dance if they attend an American Indian ceremony in the States.

“As a veteran, you’ll be asked to join the circle and to lead the procession,” he said.

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