The National Training Center and Fort Irwin hosted a celebration to commemorate the yearly observance of National American Indian Heritage Month, here, Nov. 13.
The celebration provided Soldiers and community members an opportunity to learn about some of the history and culture of Native American people of the Mojave Desert. The NTC’s training area for brigade-size units is located within the same desert.
Sam Hunter, who maintains the NTC’s M1A1 tank and M2 Bradley simulators, is also an adviser to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment and NTC Museum, and specializes in the seven indigenous groups of the Fort Irwin area. He presented an informative brief about a local region inhabited by Native American tribes thousands of years ago.
Approximately 7,000 years ago, the Hokan and Uto-Aztecan people converged upon the area, which Hunter refers to as the Black Mountain Complex, and is located just southwest of the NTC. He described the area as a battlefield, a war memorial, a mourning site and a classroom. The significance of the site shares similarities to the mission of the NTC and Fort Irwin.
“Everyone serving, living or working on Fort Irwin actively contributes to a 5,000-year-old tradition of teaching, training and evaluating young warriors preparing for battle,” said Hunter, a Vietnam Veteran, who served 22 years in the military with the Army and Marines.
According to Hunter, the Hokan and Uto-Aztecan fought at Black Mountain, but also used the location as a training area and cantonment. He also said that the tradition of the complex would have been forgotten had it not been for the written history of the Hokan and Uto-Aztecans.
Keeping traditions alive today are the Black Mountain Birdsingers, who also participated in the event with songs and dances. The group is also known as Avi Sequill Birdsingers. Avi Sequill refers to Black Mountain (near Parker, Ariz.), which is a sacred mountain for the Mohave tribe. The Mohave is one of four tribes that represent the Colorado River Indian Tribes, the others being Chemehuevi, Hopi and Navajo, said Curtis Martin, singer for the Black Mountain Birdsingers.
Martin, who is Mohave-Chemehuevi, explained that the songs his group performed were adopted by Mohave from the Cahuilla tribe and interpreted into the Mohave language.
“We carry these as our sacred songs,” Martin said. “These songs are thousands of years old. They actually were a number of different animal songs – deer, turtle, beaver, bird. There were originally about 3,000 of these songs and they were sung for three days, never singing the same song twice.”
The songs have been passed down through oral tradition and about three hundred remain, Martin said.
The group performed about a dozen, including ones that honor victory and warriors, and a final song about remembrance.
The venue, Sandy Basin Community Center, was filled to standing room capacity – primarily with Soldiers attending the event. An artifact display, informational displays and food sampling rounded out the celebration. The Equal Opportunity and Equal Employment Opportunity event was a good cultural experience for Soldiers, said Sgt. 1st Class Terry Scott, senior dental non-commissioned officer with U.S. Army Dental Clinic Command, here.
Specialist Jonathon Tran, a UH-72 Lakota helicopter crew chief with B Company, 2916th Aviation Battalion, here, enjoyed the songs and food, and said it’s important to have understanding about different ethnicities.
“It’s important to raise awareness and witness different cultures,” said Tran, who is part Seminole and Choctaw. “It feels good to be recognized … have your culture, and have pride in it.”