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National Native American heritage month

By Brenda McClinton 2nd Bomb Wing Equal Opportunity Director

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This month we recognize the many accomplishments, contributions and sacrifices of Native Americans for their participation in all aspects of America's society. Native American contributions continue to be a vast part of our daily lives since they were the first to cultivate 75 percent of the food grown in the world today.

Throughout our nation's history, Native Americans served in the military and many have fought valiantly in defense of our country as dedicated servicemen and women. Native Americans served in the military from the American Revolution to combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. During World War I and World War II, Native Americans developed unbreakable codes to communicate military messages that saved countless lives. They have the highest record of military service per-capita when compared to any other ethnic group.

The reasons behind Native American contributions to the military are complex and deeply rooted in their traditional values. Such values are strength, honor and pride. At the end of the century, there were nearly 190,000 Native American military veterans -- today, this number continues to grow.

Native Americans distinguished themselves as inventors, entrepreneurs, spiritual leaders and scholars. The first Native American to walk in space, John Herrington, is an astronaut from the Chickasaw Nation. Mr. Herrington, who was aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour, carried the national flag of the Chickasaw Nation and many other items including six eagle feathers, two arrowheads and a sweet grass braid. Charlene Teters, who belongs to the Spokane Nation, is credited with bringing up issues related to racism faced by Native Americans. She is an artist and educator who opposed the use of mascots having Native American connections. Ben Nighthorse Campbell from Colorado is the first Native American to serve as a United States senator.

Native Americans are an important part of this country's culture, which even today is marked by one of our most significant national holidays in which we give gratitude. The first Thanksgiving celebration was incumbent on those who were already here and the knowledge they shared to those who later arrived. What began at the turn of the last century as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions the first citizens made to help the growth of this country resulted in November being designated as National Native American Heritage Month. The theme for this year's commemoration is "Life is Sacred- Celebrate Healthy Native Communities." So, let us all recognize Native American Heritage and observe the many important influences they contributed to the development of our great country.