Lasting legacy

Native Americans have played an important role in U.S. military operations since the beginning of the country's history. Shown here, Apache Scout William Major is seen here with an officer of the 25th Infantry in the 1930s.

Native Americans have played an important role in U.S. military operations since the beginning of the country's history. Shown here, Apache Scout William Major is seen here with an officer of the 25th Infantry in the 1930s.

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE -- The American Indian's legacy is one that stretches as far back as the spirit wind blows, reaching back to the days when they were the only true Americans walking this land. 

Their heritage today is just as rich as it was when the first Native American served the United States government. For the first time in eight year, the Native American Heritage Committee will recognize the tremendous feat of a people who defended and served this country long before they could vote or even become citizens. 

Harry Tonemah, a photographer with the 82nd Communication Squadron's Multi-media Center, said this year's theme of the nation-wide observance is "A Warriors Way: Contributing to our Nation's Freedom." He said the warrior's way is one that doesn't seek self-satisfaction, rather the warrior looks to gain rewards for his or her people. 

"Native Americans, whether fighting tribe against tribe or for the United States, they were always warriors," he said. "They fought to sustain a way of life that was always for the best (interest) of their people. No matter who they were fighting for, they were always proud." 

Mr. Tonemah, whose ancestry makeup is half Kiowa and half Comanche, said it's important for those who are able to claim a Native American heritage to do so. But, he said claiming a heritage is more than providing lip service. It's about knowing your heritage and talking to others about it. 

"Native Americans at Sheppard have a lot to offer because they are a melting pot," he said. "There are Native Americans from all over the United States here." 

Unless people step forward, he said it's difficult to identify who those people are here who are of American Indian descent. 

Donna Sykes, a descendant of Cherokee and Assiniboine tribes and a member of the 82nd Civil Engineer Squadron's lead quality assurance personnel, said she feels the American Indian ethnic group has been lost in the shuffle. But, their heritage is one that is long-standing and important to the history of the armed forces. 

"If you were to take a survey and asked to list different ethnic groups, I think we'd be lost," she said. 

But, the location of Sheppard could help the Native American Heritage Committee and the ethnic group here makes a return to prominence. She said the large contingent of American Indian tribes in Texas and Oklahoma provide opportunities for Native Americans to reconnect with their past. 

Mrs. Sykes said a dream of hers is to see a single group of people come together and erase the need for separate ethnic groups. 

"My hope is one day we won't have a need for special interest groups," she said. "Maybe one day we won't have to teach people on ethnic diversity." 

Until that time comes, there will be the need to educate people on the dedication of the American Indian, the sacrifice of the American Indian and the service of the American Indian. Instead of thinking of Native Americans as the people seen in the Western movie genre, they should be thought of as a people that contributed to the formation of a free and prosperous nation. 

"Some people need education because they are ignorant on the topic," Mrs. Sykes said. "They weren't exposed to it. Those people I want to educate." 

Mr. Tonemah said that education begins Nov. 15 with a Lunch 'N Learn at the Sheppard Club. Lanny Asepermy, a member of the Kiowa and Comanche tribes, will speak on the warrior's way at 11 a.m