Honoring American Indian veterans: Dance troupe returns from tour of Iraq
CANASTOTA, N.Y. – Soldiers serving in Iraq attended a performance by the Native Star Dance Team of New Mexico at Contingency Operating Base Spiecher on Nov. 8. The dance team put on a colorful show for the troops in celebration of American Indian Heritage Month.
“We wanted to support the troops and provide a morale support tour to celebrate Native American Heritage month in the military,” said Nick Brokeshoulder, Hopi/Absentee Shawnee and a retired Army Sgt. 1st Class. “The soldiers have been very receptive and we have been humbled by the positive comments that they’ve made.”
Sponsored by the USAREUR (U.S. Army – Europe), the dance team members were the first American Indians to perform for the troops since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The dance troupe flew first to Kuwait and then to Iraq, where they entertained throughout the country for a week. The Armed Forces Network broadcast the tour, which was produced by AKA Productions Inc. under Brokeshoulder’s direction, as part of American Indian Heritage Month. Six hundred and twenty self-described “full-blood” servicemen currently serve in Iraq.
“American Indians have contributed more than their share of blood in defense of America,” said writer/producer Sonny Skyhawk, who suggested that the dance troupe perform in Iraq. “The Native Star Dance Team courageously donated their time and talent to support the troops. That is the true spirit of America and that is why they volunteered to go to Iraq. It’s as simple, honorable and admirable as that.”
In Iraq, dancers took to the stage wearing assorted outfits constructed from colorful materials covered with tassels and other gems. The clothing is
characteristic of their rich history, as well as of new and passed-down traditions.
Brokeshoulder was accompanied by six dancers, one of whom was his wife, Sharon.
“Sharon is wearing a Women’s Southern Cloth, an Oklahoma-style wing dress. The unique thing is soldiers have given her combat patches. She is going to sew every single patch to that dress. The patches will never be taken off and the dress will never be sold – it will be kept forever,” Brokeshoulder said. “The reason she is doing this is because when she goes to future pow wows, other Indians will see her dance and ask about those patches. She will tell them that combat soldiers, the modern-day warriors, gave them to her. She is so honored to wear the dress; and throughout time the Indian warrior society has evolved through the military, starting from World War I and now into Iraqi Freedom.”
As the audience watched the dances, each individual carried out their own performance. All the acts performed were a type of Plains Indian dance routinely shown throughout North America. According to Brokeshoulder, American Indian soldiers enjoyed the event because it brought them a little taste of home.
“This is a great opportunity. This is the first time I can recollect where a full-fledged dance team has performed in any atmosphere such as this. Many Native American soldiers have come up to us and said we have brought memories from home to them.
“I often hear soldiers say they miss what they left behind. One young lady told my wife this show touched her so much she got emotional. She said it was the most beautiful thing we could have done for her because she misses home,” Brokeshoulder said.
At the close of the event, the dancers signed autographs, took photos and interacted with soldiers. Not only did soldiers congratulate the performers for their work, but Brokeshoulder also acknowledged American Indian soldiers as well.
“I have personally been taking photographs of Native American soldiers and I plan to send them back to their tribal leaders. In Indian country, veterans are recognized often at many of their gatherings. We really just want to thank all the soldiers. They have taken very good care of us while we have been here and have been treated well beyond our expectations.
“This is our eighth performance and we have had one of the greatest responses at COB Spiecher. We have several shows, left but we really want to thank MWR for all their help and especially our soldiers for their support. This is for them,” Brokeshoulder said.
On their return to America, the dance group gave praise and respect to the soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Skyhawk said the team held a ceremony before takeoff for four flag draped caskets en route to the United States. “They burned sage and sweetgrass for the fallen warriors,” he said.
<i>Pfc. Durwood Blackmon of the 25th Combat Aviations Brigade Public Affairs contributed to this report.