View Full Version : American Indians adapt to life in the Corps

11-17-03, 06:55 AM
American Indians adapt to life in the Corps
November 17,2003

When Deidra Cly joined the Marine Corps, she was immediately lost.

The Corps was a strange world - nothing like the Navajo nation that she left behind in the northwest corner of New Mexico.

"I never left the reservation until I went into the Marine Corps," the 20-year-old lance corporal said "I was homesick with no tribal elders around."

Where Cly lived was so off the beaten path that it was almost impossible to give directions to visitors. There were no computers, microwave ovens or cable TV.

"All I cared about was hunting, fishing and baking bread," said Cly, a vehicle driver assigned to Truck Company, Headquarters and Services Battalion, 2nd Marine Division.

"I'm still facing new technology."

Cly's experiences aren't unusual for American Indians in the military. They face obstacles ranging from a clash of cultures to language, said Dana McCook-Sullivan, 45, a civilian supply technician from Charleston, S.C., with the business logistics support section at Camp Lejeune.

"You worry about forgetting your native tongue - it's a great concern," she said.

McCook-Sullivan has been in the area since 1992 and encourages American Indians to get together as a way to remember their heritage and to solve everyday problems through advice from older and wiser people.

Special events such as today's Gathering of Many Nations at Camp Lejeune help.

Military officials scheduled the event to celebrate Native American and Alaskan Heritage Month.

Scheduled 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Marston Pavilion, the gathering and includes a spiritual blessing, an authentic American Indian lunch, dance and speakers.

"The first thing I noticed was that there is very little notice of Native Americans in the area," said McCook-Sullivan who is affiliated with the Uintah and Ouray reservations that are included in the Ute Apache Nation. "There weren't any statistics, but I was meeting them everywhere. There is a difference in what they go through - they're more homesick."

Cultural differences can cause problems for American Indian Marines, said Gunnery Sgt. Loy Apriesnia, 45, a court reporter from Tulsa, Okla., assigned to Headquarters and Support Battalion at Camp Lejeune.

"You do not look people of authority in the eye," Apriesnia said of her customs, nothing that military personnel traditionally view people who avoid eye contact as dishonest. American Indians have to recognize that and change.

"You have to be deliberate," said Apriesnia, a member of the Kiowa Comanche tribe in Oklahoma. "When you go back they say you're trying to be a white girl, but my mom says you have the best of both worlds."

The customs, however, do not interfere with the patriotic spirit of Marines who are American Indians, said 1st Lt. Tony Kennedy, 32, a combat engineer officer from Middletown, Conn., assigned to the 8th Engineer Support Battalion.

"My family has served in every war since World War I," Kennedy said.

Apriesnia agreed.

"When a young service person comes home, they are put on a pedestal," Apriesnia said. "Veterans are honored year round, not just one day a year."

Still, these Marines never forget their heritage. They remember annual powwows, normally held in June, as times when they can share who they are with their clan in traditional prayer, thanksgiving and celebration.

"There's a very strong warrior pride and the male dance celebrates masculinity," said Kennedy, a member of the Maliseet nation primarily from Maine and New Brunswick, Canada.

Many American Indians at Camp Lejeune said they hope to start a group that would celebrate their culture and heritage. They would like to arrange a "49," which is a huge party traditionally thrown to celebrate warriors returning from battle.

"I would like to get the word out and let people know that we're here," Sullivan said. "If you just want to come out, eat some fried bread and hang out."

For information on Monday's event or other ethnic gatherings aboard the base, contact Camp Lejeune Equal Opportunity Adviser Staff Sgt. Tanya M. Queiro at 451-5372 or email at queirotm@lejeune.usmc.mil. For information on organizing an American Indian group call McCook-Sullivan at 451-9429.