When Sgt. 1st Class Taylor Tahbo was asked to speak at the Native American Indian Heritage Month luncheon, he had to ask himself what the monthlong observance really meant to him, he said.
“It is a time to honor my family and my ancestors — like my great-great-great grandfather, Lewis Tewanima, who won a silver medal in track and field in the 1912 Olympics,” the Ranger instructor said Friday at the annual Equal Opportunity Office-sponsored luncheon.
“It is also a time to reflect on the role Native Americans have played for our country and its armed forces,” he said. “American Indians have made many great contributions to the military for more than 200 years and have participated in every American conflict since the Revolutionary War.”
According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, November was first designated as the month to honor Native Americans in 1990. It has since become an annual tradition.
Tahbo, a Hopi and Tewa American Indian, was raised on the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation in Parker, Ariz. Growing up, his dad taught him mental and physical strength, honor, wisdom, pride and bravery — “all the makings of a warrior,” he said.
“Native Americans represent the highest per capita enlistment of any ethnic group in the United States,” Tahbo said.
American Indians have served unique roles in the military. They were scouts in the War of 1812: 16 received the Medal of Honor, Tahbo said. And in both world wars, they sent encoded messages — undecipherable to the enemy — using their native languages.
“Between 12,000 and 15,000 Native Americans served our country during World War I, an amazing number considering American Indians were not granted citizenship until 1924,” Tahbo said. “(One) reason Native Americans seem to always step up to support this country goes back to the time-honored traits held high by all Native American societies. These are the traits my father taught me. These are the traits which made them feared opponents in the past and continue to make them courageous warriors today.”
The Black Mountain Bird Singers, relatives of Tahbo from the Arizona reservation, performed during the luncheon. They performed several songs and dances intended to mimic the sounds and motions of birds, said Nathan Dick, one of the performers.
“I am very proud to be Native American,” said Dick, of the Mohave tribe. “I just want to be able to show people that we still know our culture. As Native Americans, to preserve our culture, our language — that’s who we are.”
A related Native American exhibit will be on display in the Donovan Research Library through December. The exhibit provides background information on native peoples, with a special display honoring 92-year-old Cherokee elder Walker Calhoun, a World War II veteran who served with the 66th Infantry Division in Europe.