Jason Morgan Edwards
On Veterans Day, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center honored all veterans at its Gourd Dance celebration.

Gourd Dance in Albuquerque Honors Veterans

Jason Morgan Edwards

Veterans Day has a very special meaning in the United States. It is a day that is set aside to honor those that have chosen to serve in defense of their country through military service. It is also a special day to remember and honor those service people who sacrificed their lives in the course of that service. Military service is especially significant to Native peoples. Natives have the highest enrollment, per capita, of any ethnic group in America. In Albuquerque, New Mexico the holiday was observed with a Gourd Dance at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

The Gourd Dance is a centuries-old tradition of honoring tribal warriors and respected leaders. It was first instituted by the Kiowa and tribes of the Southern Plains. It has since been adopted and shared by tribes throughout North America, but especially by the tribes of the southwestern United States. It has become a well-known and much respected way for Native people to honor those returning home from military service.

U.S. Army veteran, Boye Ladd Sr. (Zuni/Ho Chunk), acted as MC for this year. "For Native American veterans, military service comes from a sense of honor and duty to the Creator for country, People, and most importantly, tradition. In seeing death on the battlefield, these veterans truly know the greatness of life. We must honor them for their bravery and sacrifice." As a stark reminder of the perils faced by our warriors, a solitary chair is placed in the arena. It represents the space reserved for the fallen soldiers, as well as the ones Missing In Action.

Tony Reyna was awarded special recognition for his WWII service. The former Governor of the Taos Pueblo will celebrate his 100th birthday in February 2016. He was a former Prisoner of War (POW) and a survivor of the Bataan Death March in the Philippine Islands. He recalls the bombing of Pearl Harbor one of his most vivid memories from WWII. "From that day on, we got into action. I was on a 30-day leave. After the 30-day leave, I was sent back to Ft. Bliss [in] El Paso. We stayed there about two weeks. They assigned me to Battery C of Santa Fe."

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During his five years of captivity, Reyna had a gruesome, but honorable, task. "I got into burial detail. I must have buried about a 1,000 men, anywhere from 15-20 a day. That was a sad part of it. We just took their dog tags and dumped them in."

Governor Reyna was one of approximately 40,000 Natives to serve during WWII. That was during a time when many Natives were not even allowed to vote in many states throughout America, including his home state of New Mexico. But, that didn't deter him from serving. In fact, he was not drafted. He volunteered. "I fought for my country. I fought for my People. I think that was a privilege. We had a duty to do." He was gifted a Pendleton blanket and a commemorative plaque by Travis Suazo (Laguna/Taos/Acoma), IPCC Director of Museum and Cultural Engagement, and Michael Canfield (Laguna), IPCC President/CEO.

"Mr. Reyna has spent his entire life serving his Pueblo and his country," says Suazo. "Only through the sacrifices of men like him are we able to protect and maintain our Pueblo beliefs and core value."

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
It does my heart good to see Native veterans being honored by Native people in my home state. We serve at a higher rate than any other ethnicity yet we're still fighting for cultural respect and our civil rights! C'mon America, "and justice for all," means just that, for ALL!