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September 5, 2010

The Labor Day powwow is going on in Ashland this weekend.  At every powwow following the grand entry, a drum group plays an honor song for military veterans and those currently enlisted.  Warriors have always held a place of honor in Cheyenne culture, so the special recognition of military men and women is no surprise – but what is surprising, when I sit back to consider it, is the lack of recognition for the men and women of our military at other events that take place in the United States.  Occasionally there are special nights at baseball games or football games when our troops are recognized, and I’ve heard a rodeo announcer or two ask veterans to stand for applause during the down time between events, but overall there is a striking lack of recognition for our military in the rest of the nation – striking because we have been involved in several active conflicts for almost a decade.

I wonder if the lack of recognition has to do with a preference for avoidance – a preference for not thinking about the fact that there are men and women risking their lives in the name of our country while we sit and enjoy the relative comfort and security of everyday life. I know my grandfather carried with him a quiet pride for the service he performed for our country during the Korean War as well as an acute attention to (and sorrow about) the current military conflicts that so many of us pushed to the back of our minds soon after the 9-11 excitement died down.  I wish he could have enjoyed the type of recognition that Cheyenne veterans enjoy in their communities and known that his family and his country were as proud of his service as he was.

I enjoy the myriad reminders I get on the reservation and in the West of the sacrifices it takes to live the life we live. Many brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters of tribal members are in active duty with the military, and both celebrations and funerals are regularly held – celebrations for those who return safely from duty, and funerals for those who do not.  The reminders also come in the form of branding and herding the cattle that will end up on our dinner plates, and hunting and fishing for food, gutting it, cooking it, and serving it. There’s no avoiding the fact that what’s for dinner was once a living, breathing creature, as is so easy to do when it’s picked up in a package at the grocery store.  And the way people pay close attention to the weather, since an unexpected cold or dry or hot spell could destroy an entire crop and compromise both the food supply and the local economy.  

Living where I do makes me appreciate everything I have and enjoy, and makes me feel a much more humble human being.


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