LOS ANGELES – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District celebrated the contributions of American Indians and Alaska natives during an observance Nov. 7 at the District’s headquarters in downtown LA.
“Standing Together” was the theme of this year’s National Native American Heritage Month, which reflects on the achievements and contributions of Native Americans to the Army, Corps of Engineers and the nation.
Walter Ahhaitty, planner and grant writer for Southern California Indian Center Inc., or SCIC, in Orange County, California – one of the largest urban American Indian organizations in the country – was the keynote speaker at the event.
Ahhaitty is a member of the Kiowa, Comanche and Cherokee tribes in Oklahoma, and belongs to the Kiowa Black Leggings Warrior Society. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1995 to 1999, and said he comes from a strong patriotic background, with his father and uncles serving in the Marine Corps and his great-grandfather serving as a Scout in the 7th Cavalry.
More than 9,000 Native Americans serve in today’s U.S. Army – as active-duty Soldiers, National Guard and in the Army Reserve, said Lt. Col. Peter Stambersky, District deputy commander, told those in attendance.
“In celebrating Native American Heritage Month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recognizes not only the significance of individual contributions,” he said, “but also the value of diversity in our organization and an inclusive environment.”
During his presentation, Ahhaitty discussed different Native American tribes and how each tribe is unique. He relayed his own personal stories – many humorous ones – growing up as a Native American teenager. He also pointed out even though tribes are different from each other, they also bond together to support each other and their causes because the issues they face are similar.
He also talked about the founding of Southern California Indian Center Inc., formerly known as the Indian Community Center, in 1969.
Steve Weiss, project scheduler and program manager American Indian/Alaskan Native Special Emphasis program, said it’s important to celebrate Native American Heritage Month at the Corps to show appreciation and recognition to those tribal members who paved the way for the new generation, for their support of the nation as members of the military and what they have provided to the sustainment of the U.S.
“We also want to educate folks about the Indian and Alaska Native cultures,” Weiss said, “so people can gain an understanding of real-life accounts, and not innuendo and falsehoods of how (Native Americans) lived and what they are up against in current times.”
In addition to the presentation, Weiss brought his own personal collection of Native American memorabilia for display, including Navajo pots, a totem pole from Alaska, blankets loaned from the Lakota Indian tribe in Montana, a dream catcher made by a tribe in South Dakota, pictures taken in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as well as books, pictures and information from tribes around the nation.