SAF/IE Presents: Lifting Indigenous Voice Through Education and Storytelling.

  • Published
  • By SAF/IE Strategic Communication Team

November celebrates Native American Indian Heritage Month; dedicated to honor the rich history, diverse cultures, and significant contributions of indigenous peoples in the United States. Throughout this month, organizations and communities came together to celebrate and acknowledge the proud and enduring legacy of Native Americans.

To commemorate Native American Heritage Month this year, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Energy, Installations, and Environment orchestrated a TED talk-styled event to spotlight the profound impact and cultural wealth of Native American communities. The event featured two distinctive Native American speakers, one from the continental United States and one from Alaska: Jacqueline Melcher, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe and the director of the Installation Management Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, and Charlene Ostbloom a member of the Alaskan Nulato tribe, who specializes in communication efforts involving Alaskan business and the Native Alaskan community.

Nancy Balkus, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for Environment, Safety, and Infrastructure and Tribal Liaison Officer for the Department of the Air Force, kicked off the event. Balkus opened the floor to Alicia Sylvester, the Tribal Advisor and Liaison for the Department of Defense, who began the presentation by reciting the Land Acknowledgment on behalf of the Department. This formal statement respects and recognizes the indigenous tribes whose ancestral lands are associated with a particular area, such as the acreage on which the Pentagon was constructed.

During the event, both Melcher and Ostbloom delivered captivating presentations that shed light on their ancestral roots and shared tales of resilience, heritage preservation, and the enduring traditions that have shaped their identity. Melcher, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, talked about the historical struggles her family had to endure with racism and discrimination but also shared the cultural strength that she took from her family, which shaped her life, and she continues to fight for. She emphasized the importance to preserve and honor Native American customs, languages, and traditions; by doing, she highlighted that it can lead to a better understanding and stronger relations with indigenous communities. Melcher also gave a profound overview of the Department of the Air Force’s Indigenous Nations Equality Team (INET), which serves as a resource group for the Indigenous nation's community within the service.

“For the first time in history, there is a designated group in the Pentagon whose sole purpose is to identify barriers to service for American Indian and Alaska Natives,” said Melcher. “I’m proud of the Department of the Air Force for being the champion for this effort. The Indigenous Nations Equality Team’s primary goals are to remove barriers, recruit and retain. Education and awareness are both the root cause and solution for those efforts.  We educate in a positive way to encourage a better understanding of the cultural heritage and how that culture contributes to the DAF and our mission. Our diversity is our adversaries’ greatest threat.  With 574 federally recognized tribes with sovereign status in the United States, it’s vital that we continue to nurture those relationship and value those partnerships.

Similarly, Ms. Ostbloom, a member of the Nulato tribe, shared her journey and experiences growing up in rural Alaska; she took the audience behind the scenes into rich cultural practices while educating them on the way of life for indigenous people in rural Alaska. She spoke about the importance of acknowledging and respecting the land and how her family's cultural heritage has helped her to navigate difficult situations. She also provided a detailed analysis of rural communities' issues, particularly with the decline of the Salmon population and how it impacts some group’s way of life.

The event served as a catalyst for learning and appreciation so that it could foster dialogue and understanding amongst participants. By the end, many participants expressed how their knowledge and understanding of Native American heritage had grown significantly.

"It was an honor to host to host these inspiring leaders at the Pentagon! Let's not forget that as an Air Force, our strength is amplified when we wholeheartedly embrace and comprehend the diverse cultural traditions of various communities, including our Native cultures," said Dr. Ravi Chaudhary, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Energy, Installations, and Environment.

“As we conclude Native American Heritage Month, we must continue to honor Indigenous communities' enduring legacy and invaluable contributions”, said Chaudhary. “Their resilience, cultural richness, and unwavering spirit continue to shape the tapestry of our nation”.