The 15th annual Rogue Valley Veterans Pow-wow was so remarkable, I wanted to share my gratitude for its sacred circle in honoring war veterans.
The event was more sombre than traditional pow-wows, but still had all the ceremony of celebrating native men and women who have risked their lives to ensure the freedom of two peoples — fellow Americans and those of their sovereign nations.
What was remarkable was the blending of languages in prayer and song, from Navajo in the south to many in the midwest.
Veterans and performers traveled from as far as Texas, Mississippi, Virginia and Oklahoma to join western tribes from California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Some camped for days in tents on the wide lawns of the VA Rehabilitation Center.
All the forces were represented: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and various reserves.
There were more tribes than we could name: Cherokee, Ojibwa, Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, Mohawk, Comanche, Siletz, Klamath-Modoc, and even Canadian Blackfoot.
Traditional costumes were stunning. The pounding of handcrafted drums punctuated every procession, every song, every dance.
Gourds provided a chilling rattle for one of the most sacred dances; tiny bells at men’s ankles and all over women’s dresses added lilting notes for others.
Everything was done in a sacred circle, where the community was reminded to hold the stories of veterans.
Women and men had separate dances, yet women were honored for making costumes and ensuring that native traditions continue.
“They know our stories,” said emcee Bob Tom of the Grand Ronde.
He reminded everyone present that they had a responsibility too, to remember this day, so that they could share it with other generations.
“We have a responsibility for sharing our knowledge” and native values, Tom told the crowd.
In a deep voice, he made it clear everyone had responsibilities to honor veterans.
Tom said: “Never forget.”
Several dozen men, and one woman, came to the mic, one by one, to identify themselves by name, tribe, state, military branch, years of service, and combat time. A few had canes; one had a walker.
Most were Vietnam War vets, tall and greying men. One Korean War vet received the most applause. Clapping grew louder for the young men who had fought for years in the Iraq war.
The scent of burning sweetgrass was heavy in the air. Gold Star parents (their children died in combat) and Blue Star parents (active duty children) were honored. A spiritual healing ceremony was held on a second day of pow-wow.
We liked the way people described the pow-wow as an event of thanksgiving. Everyone was friendly and welcoming; free water and food were offered to all, and a big feast at the close was free and open to the public.
It was a memorable day of community, of people united by history and military service and kinship, of natives gathering with non-natives in a sacred circle to give thanks for the sacrifice of a few.
PLEASE CHECK photographer Vincent Schilling’s Memorial Day posts of native American veterans at Indian Country Media Network.