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14/11/2008 | Native American Heritage Month

Martin Edwin Andersen

This Monday I had the opportunity to introduce Lillian Sparks, a Lakota woman of the Rosebud and Oglala Sioux Tribes, who currently serves as the executive director of the National Indian Education Association as the guest speaker for National Defense University's celebration of Native American Heritage Month. I must say, I was moved by the invitation to participate, and I count it as the most personally rewarding experience I have had since I came to these halls three years ago.

 

Below is a copy of my introduction of Ms. Sparks, in which I tried to express in the best way I could, why Native American Heritage Month is important to all Americans, but especially to the defense community.  I hope you will enjoy it. (Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of Ms. Sparks' important address.)

Best regards,
Mick Andersen


Híŋhaŋni wašté (hee-hahn-nee

wah-shday/Good Morning)

It is a great honor to be with you here today to reflect on the many contributions made by Native Americans to this country, and to freedom and justice around the world.

I have always drawn inspiration from the wisdom and beauty of Native American culture, and how Indians define both leadership and our obligations as stewards of the earth.

One of my favorite quotations about our role as environmental stewards is an Indian proverb:
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, We borrow it from our children.
I am sure that many of you know that one of this nation's founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, studied the example of the People of the Long House to understand how a true democracy works.

Since that time, America's example has been a shining beacon to countries around the world.  That means that part of the example we set has been provided to us by America's Indian tribes. And there is much more.

I think it is particularly fitting that the National Defense University sponsors this observance of Native American Heritage Month, for a couple of reasons.

Today, more Native Americans serve in the U.S. armed forces—approximately 2.1 percent of the serving military—than any other ethnic group, a tradition that goes back to the beginning of the Republic.

There are 24 Indians who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor for having served in battle with courage above and beyond the call of duty.

In a number of Native American tribes, there is no precise equivalent to the English verb, “to learn.”
The closest they come is the phrase, “to stand by.”
You learn by watching the example of those around you.
Here at NDU, beyond the wonderful library and the many credentialed academics in our midst, we also learn by standing by the many people, particularly our civilian and military elders, who come here to share with us their insights, experiences and examples.

There is Native American story that I would like to share with you, as I have with my younger brother when he was growing up, and with my daughters.

The Navaho people tell the story of how, in a time of great need, the Hero Twins, the symbolic representation of their people, journeyed to talk to the Sun God, who tends to all things.

When they met him, the Hero Twins complained about the pestilence, famine and other tragedies that had befallen the Navaho.

The Sun God then took them before three doors.
The first two opened up to vistas of great material wealth and well-being.
The third door opened up to knowledge.
Before you choose, I must warn you, the Sun God told the Hero Twins, that knowledge has no end.
And that was the door they chose.
For the Navaho, knowledge is the greatest treasure, even when passing through troubled times. There is a lesson there for all of us.

Finally, before I introduce our guest speaker today, I would like to gently remind everyone of the debt we still owe to the First Nations here in the United States.

In the 1950s the great legal scholar Felix S. Cohen wrote something that to me seems so appropriate in today’s world:
Like the miner’s canary, the Indian marks the shift from fresh air to poison gas in our political atmosphere, and our treatment of Indians, even more than the treatment of other minorities, reflects the rise and fall of our democratic faith.

There is still so much that needs to be done to both redeem solemn treaty promises and to truly show our gratitude to Native Americans for all of the contributions they have made to this wonderful country.

As the late Justice Hugo Black observed: Great nations, like great men, should keep their word.''
With that in mind, I hope our guest speaker will say some thing to make us a little bit uncomfortable. We are truly privileged to have her with us here today.

Lillian Sparks, a Lakota woman of the Rosebud and Oglala Sioux Tribes, currently serves as the executive director of the National Indian Education Association.

The NIEA, located in Washington, DC, was founded in 1969 to give American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians a voice in their struggle to improve access to education opportunities.

Prior to joining NIEA, Miss Sparks was a staff attorney with the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) where she worked on international indigenous rights, sacred sites and religious protection, and issues related to youth and healthcare.

A former Miss Indian World, she was named as one of 7 young leaders in Indian Country.
Miss Sparks received her B.A. in Political Science from Morgan State University, located in her hometown of Baltimore, MD, and her Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC.

Miss Sparks, welcome to the National Defense University. …

Offnews.info (Argentina)

 


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