Native American Heritage Month celebrated during November
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Kadena joins the United States in focusing on Native Americans and Alaskan natives in the annual November-long observance of National Native American Heritage Month.
The first Americans are the focus during NAHM, which was kick-started on Kadena with a breakfast.
"When the majority of society today thinks of Native Americans, they typically only think native people of North America, when the term 'Native American' refers to all indigenous people of North, South, and Central America," said Senior Airman Esteban Salmón, 18th Component Maintenance Squadron Avionics Intermediate Shop Technician, and guest speaker at the NAHM kick-off breakfast Nov. 5th.
The label of 'Native American' applies to extinct cultures, like the Caribbean Taíno and the Mayans, as well as tribes that have survived to the modern day, such as Eskimos, Seminoles, Navajo and many more.
"Today, there are (more than) 3 million Native Americans in the United States," said. "There are 18.5 million in North America, and approximately 50 million indigenous people in the combined Americas."
At the breakfast, Salmón spoke of his own heritage, and what being Native American means to him as a member of the Rarámuri, or Tarahumara, tribe of northwestern Mexico. He has found belonging to a tribe to be a rich experience, and celebrates his culture wherever he is.
"When I think about being Native American, I think of things like stories, food, family and friendship," Salmón said.
His Native American identity had to be learned because he didn't grow up with his tribe, and he spoke on how difficult it can be to hold onto traditional ways while adapting to the impacts of modern misportrayal of Native Americans. There are also legal definitions that sometimes don't include him.
"I have had my own personal struggles with my native American identity," he said. "An example was when it came to college: I wasn't even qualified to tuition assistance for my Native American heritage because my tribe lives in Mexico and not the United States."
Salmón lives his life by the morning's main messages on the ability to adapt and be resilient, and also to keep stories and traditions viable by talking about and sharing them. Salmón credits his father with filling his head with knowledge about his people, and other tribes.
"Resiliency is the key to survival of today's Native Americans and their respective cultures," Salmón said. "Native Americans do this by becoming sources of cultural capital, (which) is all around us. It's in our adventures and misadventures. It's in our food, our hobbies, and our personal talents. But most importantly, it thrives in our stories."
Cultural capital is the idea that general cultural background, knowledge, disposition, and skills are passed on from one generation to another.
Since the early 1900s, indigenous peoples of the United States have been trying to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions of the first Americans in the establishment and growth of the States, according to the government NAHM site. It continues to be a day without any recognition as a national legal holiday, although presidential proclamations have granted annual focus since 1994.
NAHM is celebrated to recognize cultures and educate the public about their heritage, history, art and traditions of the American Indian and Alaska native people.
Kadena is doing its part by hosting several events, to include movie night and a pentathalon, during November. Contact Senior Airman Courtney Blair (634-3379) or Staff Sgt. Sabrina Fox (634-2621) for further information.