On Saturday, September 6, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community held a celebration for its veterans in the Community Building. The O’odham Veterans Celebration was held in order to reach out to veterans from the Native American community, with emphasis on veterans from the four tribes. The celebration allows for Native veterans to meet and talk with benefits counselors from the Veterans Administration.
The celebration began early that morning with a sunrise blessing, followed by a breakfast where friends and family had a chance to swing by and see the vendors and look over what they had to offer the guests.
The main program began with an opening prayer from pastor Len Andrews, USMC. After the posting of the colors, Piipaash and O’odham singers sang a few songs to acknowledge both tribes. A performance by the Salt River Traditional Singers and Dancers followed, led by veteran and Council Member Ricardo “Brusha” Leonard.
SRPMIC President Diane Enos then shared some thought-provoking words: “It’s important to acknowledge both tribes here. It’s more important to acknowledge the selfless acts our people have done from Salt River and Lehi. They literally put their lives on the line for our Community. I’m honored to be here with you and your families.”
Also in attendance was SRPMIC Vice-President Martin Harvier, who shared a very personal story about a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who took his life. Afterward, Harvier took a moment to talk about how important it is to show our veterans support and let them know there is always love, care and support from everyone here in the Community, and even resources outside of the Community boundaries. He finished his speech with, “I just want to say thank you. I enjoy my freedom, and God bless you.”
Another familiar face in attendance was Council Representative and President-Elect Delbert Ray, Sr., who took a moment to say thank you to those who have served. Ray went into detail about the bond that military people share and what it’s like to be in those situations. “When you can relate to someone who has been there, it makes a big difference,” said Ray. “I salute you veterans; thank you. Seek out support. Reach out to your neighbor.”
Following Ray’s speech, LoRae Homana Pawiki, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Tribal Government Specialist, shared information about how Native veterans’ benefits are accessible and available. Pawiki explained that while Native Americans are the ethnic group that is most represented in the U.S. armed forces, theythere are the least likely to take advantage of military benefits. Pawiki also discussed how her department is striving to make veterans’ lives easier when it comes to accessing their benefits and resources. The goals include facilitating more resources, providing more assistance with burial/memorial services, and helping more with economic sustainability. Pawiki works in the VA’s Office of Tribal Government Relations, serving Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. She can be reached at (800) 827-1000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To conclude the main part of the program, everyone enjoyed a performance by the No:Ligk Basket Dancers, led by Tony Johnson. After the final entertainment number, everyone enjoyed lunch. To end the Veterans Celebration there was a gourd dance hosted by the Salt River American Legion Post 114.
“This year’s event went great,” said Pacer Reina, the SRPMIC Veterans Affairs Representative. “The Salt River O’odham Veterans Committee did an incredible job to make sure all of the elements we wanted [were part of the event]: information, education, recognition, entertainment and camaraderie. It was definitely good to know those veterans who attended were able to enjoy one, if not all, of those elements we tried to provide. This of course took a lot of deliberate and careful planning. I should say also that funding for this event came from local businesses, SRPMIC enterprises and the Arizona Department of Veterans Services. As a committee we can’t express our gratitude enough for their contributions.”
Throughout the year, veterans are recognized here on Salt River soil. To learn more about veterans-related volunteer work and/or resources, call Edward “Pacer” Reina at (480) 362-7490 or email him at email@example.com.