FORT IRWIN, Calif. — The sounds of the sacred drum and traditional Native American songs filled the Sandy Basin Community Center Nov. 8 for the annual Native American Heritage Month celebration hosted by the Fort Irwin Medical Department Activity and Equal Opportunity Office.
The event highlighted the many contributions made by Native Americans to the U.S. Army and other military branches. Per capita, Native Americans serve in the military at the highest rate of any ethnicity.
Lupe Lopez, founder and owner of the Red Boy Production Company, gave the event’s keynote address before introducing the company’s singers and dancers. They dazzled the crowd with performances of traditional dances, including the Fancy Shawl dance, the Jingle Dress Dance, the Northern Traditional Dance, the Hoop Dance and the Fancy Dance.
It is the company’s goal to dispel stereotypes about Native Americans by sharing their culture through song and dance, said Lopez.
“We share who we are and we voice ourselves, and we kindly correct the misunderstandings and the misperceptions,” she said. “But we do it constantly. And that’s one of the challenges as an American Indian is that, we’re always out there having to prove someone wrong. We’re always out there trying to prove who we really are. We’re always, every day, trying to prove our existence.”
Lopez has spoken and performed at Fort Irwin several times in the past. Outreach is key to fostering understanding and making sure that Native American communities are not left out of key decision-making processes, she said, adding that Fort Irwin should be seen as a model for other government organizations and agencies.
“If we have these kinds of presentations, if we continue to do this, then we can diminish the stereotypes and the misunderstandings,” she said. “And I’m so happy that Fort Irwin is part of that correction process, and I’m so happy that Fort Irwin is a model. Every agency should do something like this.”
To show their appreciation and generosity, Lopez and the Red Boy Production Company gave special Pendleton blankets to NTC and Fort Irwin Equal Opportunity Advisor Sgt. 1st Class Zachary Conklin, and two Native American Soldiers stationed at Fort Irwin: Staff Sgt. Andrea Hamilton, Dental Command; and Spc. Tyler Hardman, 2/11 ACR.
While events like the Native American Heritage Month celebration are important, Lopez said it is crucial to support Native Americans at all times. The best way to do so, she said, is to speak up and make sure Native American voices have a seat at the table.
“I really appreciate the EEO here at Fort Irwin because they outreached to us,” she said. “Maybe they didn’t know in the beginning who to call, or where to go to, but they made a point of outreaching to Red Boy Productions, and I’m sure they’ve outreached to others in the past. That’s the loyalty that you put out there to say, let’s do something, and let’s bring them together here.”