Spc. Loria Ann Piestewa, a member of the Hopi nation, was the first Native American woman to be killed in combat on foreign soil, according to the American Indians in the Army website.
She was killed in 2003 in an ambush near Nasiriyah, Iraq. Piestewa, who was 23 and a private first class at the time of her death, was posthumously promoted to specialist.
Anthonette “Doll” Alexander, an adopted member of the Comanche nation, told an audience at McGill Training Center that when Piestewa’s remains were returned to her home near the Navajo reservation in Arizona, her family and friends celebrated in the traditional way of native peoples.
“There was food, dancing and there was joy because of her bravery,” Alexander said. “War songs were written in her honor.”
Alexander spoke about the role of the warrior and storyteller in Native American culture as part of her presentation for National Native American Heritage Month on Nov. 9.
The 90-minute observance was hosted by the garrison’s Equal Opportunity Office and Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center.
The event included displays of Native American artifacts from Alexander’s personal collection, as well as displays of prominent Native American women and maps and books about Native American lands and tribes.
A buffet featuring foods common among native nations was catered by Club Meade. The menu included roasted curry butternut squash, hominy corn and garlic, bison chili, corn and black been salad, and wild gide gitton salad.
Sgt. Tasia Picket, noncommissioned officer in charge of the outpatient pharmacy at Kimbrough, served as the emcee. Spc. Matthew Wiley sang the national anthem. Chaplain (Maj.) Dwayne Hughes, the garrison’s Family Life minister, gave the invocation.
Maj. Rodemil Fuentes, deputy commander of administration at Kimbrough, welcomed the audience and introduced Alexander.
A Warrior’s Heart
The observance of American Indian Week began in 1986 with the signing of a proclamation by President Ronald Reagan. Four years later, President George H.W. Bush designated November as Native American Heritage Month.
“The observance is celebrated to recognize native cultures and to educate the public about the history, art and traditions of the American Indians,” Pickett said.
The theme for this year is “Standing Together.”
“Through military or civilian service, American Indians have undeniably helped shape our great nation,” Pickett said.
Piestewa, Spc. Shoshana Johnson and Pfc. Jessica Lynch were part of the 507th Maintenance Company from Fort Bliss, Texas, when they were ambushed in Iraq, according to the American Indians in the Army website.
Lynch, Johnson and others were taken prisoner. Nine Soldiers, including Piestewa, were killed in action.
For her presentation, Alexander wore a Comanche woman’s dance dress and breastplate. She said the warrior is an honored position among Native Americans.
“To be a warrior meant more than doing something for yourself,” Alexander said. “It meant doing something for the land, for your tribe, for future generations.
“Being a warrior meant being braver than you thought you could be in the moment.”
Alexander told the audience that in addition to the famed Navajo Code Talkers who served in World War II, service members from the Comanche and Choctaw nations also were code talkers.
“They didn’t do it for the recognition,” she said. “They did it because they are a part of something bigger than themselves.”
Alexander encouraged the audience to visit the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center in Lawton, Oklahoma, which features displays on the Comanche Code Talkers.
She also urged audience members to attend Native American events such as local pow wows to learn more about the contributions of Native Americans in the military and throughout American history.
“It’s something worthwhile,” she said.
Alexander and her three daughters, she said, were adopted into the Comanche nation by George and Eva Watchetaker, honored elders of the nation.
George Watchetaker was considered a medicine man among his people and was an artist and champion Fancy Dancer, a style of dance among Plains native peoples.
Alexander said her mentors educated her and her children about Comanche culture and history, as well as the culture of other native nations. As a result, Alexander has shared her knowledge with audiences across the U.S. and abroad.
“It’s been quite a journey,” she said. “This is a labor of love for me.”
Among the artifacts that Alexander brought to display were jewelry and beadwork from the Plains peoples; war clubs from the Northern and Southern Plains people; a beaded hide war shirt and leggings from the Oglala Sioux Nation; and a woman’s beaded hide dress from the Yakama tribe.
In addition to the warrior, Alexander said that storytellers are also revered in native cultures.
“They were the historians, they were the teachers, the actors,” she said.
Storytellers would share their wisdom with children and adults, Alexander said, passing along lessons about life in stories about animals and nature.
As an example, Alexander told a Comanche story about a coyote and owl to explain why coyotes howl at night. She also told a story from the Pacific Northwest people about a raven who saved a village from starvation by tricking an elder woman with supernatural powers into changing the tides of the ocean.
To end her presentation, Alexander thanked service members in the audience for their sacrifice.
“I know what it takes for people to support you,” said Alexander, whose former husband was an Army chaplain. “I thank you all for your service.”
Lt. Col. Gittipong Paruchabutr, commander of Headquarters Command Battalion, presented Alexander with a plaque of appreciation.
Among those who attended the event was Gerald Meineke, the sexual assault response coordinator for the 902nd Military Intelligence Group whose family lineage has roots in the Black Foot Nation. He brought his 6-year-old daughter Christie.
Meineke said the presentation, displays and Native American foods can help his daughter understand her heritage.
“Being from a military family, she doesn’t get a lot of cultural experiences,” he said. “This experience was worthwhile and was very good.”
Celina Ketz, wife of Maj. Christopher Ketz of the National Security Agency, brought her home-schooled daughters Cristabel, 9; Liliana, 7; and Arabella, 7.
“We’re studying Native American history and I wanted them to learn something new,” Ketz said.
The story about the coyote and the Raven were interesting and fun ways for children to learn about native cultures, she said.
“They’re also enjoying the food, which surprises me,” Ketz said.
Cristabel said it was “cool” to learn about Native Americans.
“They lived a long time ago, but they’re still alive,” she said. “It’s good.”