BROKEN ARROW, Oklahoma – How to properly honor and recognize military veterans is a question that many ask in regard to the sacrifices veterans have made serving in the U.S Armed Forces. Many Native American cultures traditionally hold high celebrations with a pow wow. The Broken Arrow Intertribal Veterans Association hosted their inaugural Pow Wow to honor veterans and active duty individuals of all nations at Broken Arrow Events Park Aug 5-7th.
Although this is not the first time an Intertribal pow wow had been hosted in Broken Arrow, it was the first time it honored military veterans. Event coordinators wanted to bring it back after a long hiatus. Arrangements began as early as January according to Tinisha Mitchell.
“It was the ultimate way to honor a veteran,” Mitchell said. “Probably the highest pedestal you can put a veteran on is at a pow wow.”
Although Muscogee (Creek) Veteran Micheal Coon had attended pow wows within the Broken Arrow community in the past, he wanted this one to be special.
“I wanted to bring it back for the veterans,” Coon said. “So that they would have a place to come and remember their fallen battle buddies”
According to Coon, pow wows traditionally make sure to honor their veterans.
“Since we’re the highest ethnic group to serve in the military, that’s basically why most of all of us are geared toward making sure veterans get the recognition that they get,” Coon said.
The weekend-long event started in the early morning hours and carried on late into the evening. Temperatures climbed into the 90s. The event featured tents and saw over 84 vendors and supporters. It was open to all veterans, drums, honor guards, gourd societies and tribal princesses.
Saturday and Sunday morning featured a flag raising and prayer. Gourd Dancing ran through the afternoons. Most of the pow wow’s activities took place in the evening.
Activities included speakers, veteran recognition ceremonies, drum exhibitions, honor dancing, competition dancing, tribal honor guard presentations and dancing for children. It also featured Flag songs, Veteran’s songs, and Memorial songs to honor those who have passed on.
Tribes from across the country traveled to Oklahoma to attend the pow wow, some came from as far as New Hampshire. Members of the Hopi, Caw, Zuni, Comanche, Apache, Muscogee (Creek), Kiowa, Cherokee, Wichita, Osage, and Shawnee tribes were present.
Officials from Tulsa Public Schools, as well as Indian Educators from Broken Arrow Public Schools and Union Public Schools were in attendance.
“They were out there to see what they could do to help bring the tradition and culture back to their community and they were all very impressed. The crowd was outstanding.” Mitchells said.
Attendants also had the opportunity to visit the newly erected War at Home Memorial, located just under five miles west at Veterans Park. Unveiled in June, the national memorial is a first of its kind honoring veterans lost on the homefront to suicide.
Gourd Dancing & Honor Ceremonies
The main draw of any good pow wow is dancing. It provides an opportunity for the dancer to connect with the Creator, tell a story, and engage in competition. A common dance found at pow wows around Oklahoma is Gourd Dancing.
One of the Inter Tribal Pow Wow Gourd Dancers, Daniel Roberts was no stranger to the traditional ceremonies. He can be seen dancing at many pow wows across the state.
“I was always taught, you’re dancing for the ones that can’t dance,” Roberts said. “I’ve had people tell me ‘your dancing makes them feel good’ or they have good thoughts”
Roberts’ Muscogee (Creek) ceremonial ground is Tallahassee. He has danced at traditional Muscogee Stomp Dances and Pow Wows. Roberts dances Mens Northern Traditional Style.
“For me like that two, three, four minute song, it’s just you. No worries, no problems, just you and the Creator and your dancing.” Roberts said.
Although Roberts is a MCN Citizen and descends from Unangan-Aleut and Chickasaw heritage, he was brought up to the arena in the Cheyenne way. He was given the right to wear Cheyenne colors by his adopted grandmother, Hazel. Roberts’ regalia is a combination of his tribal and family heritage.
Roberts’ performance took third place at the pow wow.
Purple Heart Recipients, Gold Star and Blue Star Families were recognized on Sunday night, National Purple Heart Day. The biggest thank you for the veteran recognition came from a Purple Heart Commander, Mitchell Reed.
“He absolutely loved it and had never been to a pow wow a day in his life, and he was in his 70s and he was like ‘I’ve missed so much, I can’t believe I’ve missed all this’,” Mitchell said.
Laura Piestewa, the first Native American killed in the Iraq War was honored with a flag raising ceremony as well.
For some that attended, it was their first time experiencing an authentic cultural pow wow.
“They were all just in awe of what really takes place,” Mitchell said.
Supporting a Good Cause
Not only did the pow wow recognize veterans, it also supported a good cause. 100 percent of the proceeds from the pow wow benefited the Mission 22 Nonprofit. They provide services to veterans who are struggling with PTSD and other mental health issues. Their goal is to bring down the national veteran suicide rate.
While the next Broken Arrow Intertribal Pow Wow is a ways away on the horizon, Mitchell said a new location and date are currently being reviewed for next year. Event organizers are anticipating Indian Education getting involved for an even bigger ceremony.
On the importance of bringing together unique and different cultures for one pow wow, Mitchell believes it’s important to pass the torch and involve the next generation in traditional ceremonies.
“That’s great to show our children, our future,” Mitchell said. “This is the way that they do it, and this is how we should carry it on”
Roberts agrees that it is important not only to carry on the traditional ways, but also stand as a role model for the next generation as well. It’s an honor he holds in high regard for others, including his children.
“It’s a good feeling, I mean not just my own family and I’ve seen it at other pow wows. I’ve always been told ‘carry yourself in a good way’ because you don’t know who’s watching,” Roberts said. “You know I look through pictures of these little kids out there dancing behind me, it’s a good feeling”
Roberts has served as head staff across Oklahoma either a head man dancer or head gourd dancer. He will be the head man at the Oklahoma State University Native American Student Association Pow Wow in Stillwater Oct 1.
The main purpose of the Inter Tribal Pow Wow was to honor veterans in a veteran’s atmosphere according to Coon. Not only is it important to give them the recognition they deserve, it is also important to help them with the struggles they may be facing.
“This way it [pow wow] has a way to reach out to be part of this group, to mend whatever thing they’re going through with the PTSD or whatever thing they’re dealing with mentally with their health,” Coon said. “At least it gives them hope and it gives them something to look forward to”