Tribal Government & News

Veterans Powwow promotes esprit de corps

07.11.2017 Dean Rhodes Tribal Council, Culture, People, Events

Camaraderie reverberated in the air along with the powerful beats emanating from Native drums during the annual Marcellus Norwest Memorial Veterans Powwow held Friday through Sunday, July 7-9, at Uyxat Powwow Grounds off Hebo Road near Fort Yamhill State Park.

The esprit de corps among the numerous veterans who attended the three-day powwow transcended branch of service, as well as time and place from Hawaii in 1941 to 21st century Iraq and Afghanistan.

Albany resident David Russell, 96, survived the Day of Infamy sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii that saw his ship, the USS Oklahoma, sunk by Japanese torpedoes. He survived, but 429 of his fellow shipmates were killed or missing in action.

Russell’s presence was a highlight of the Saturday afternoon session of the powwow, which saw 64 veterans line up and state their branch of service and years enlisted. Many veterans also took time to honor relatives or lost comrades who also served in the military.

“It’s a special honor to be involved here with a World War II veteran,” Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno said during his Saturday afternoon welcoming speech. “We really have to treat these people special. I was just over in Hawaii and I met a World War II veteran, Vietnam veteran and Korean veteran. He is 96 years old and he fought in all three wars. These people are really special. It’s an honor to be on the same powwow grounds with this man (Russell), so give him a big hand.”

Russell survived the Pearl Harbor attack by scrambling via rope to the nearby USS Missouri, staying out of the raging oil- and gas-fueled fires in the water. He is one of only 29 Oklahoma shipmates still alive today.

Sixteen days after Pearl Harbor, he was reassigned to serve on the destroyer USS Mahan as a gunner’s mate. Three years later to the day on Dec. 7, 1944, he survived unharmed a kamikaze attack on the Mahan that so severely damaged the ship that another Navy destroyer had to sink it.

Russell eventually retired in 1960 after serving more than 20 years in the Navy.


Veterans Royalty named

The Veterans Powwow officially started at 6 p.m. Friday, July 7, with the naming of 2017-18 Veterans Royalty. Hailey Lewis-Little was named Senior Veterans Queen and Tasina Bluehorse was named Junior Veterans Queen. They competed in a Veterans Royalty Pageant held on Thursday, July 6, at the Governance Center Atrium.

Outgoing Veterans Royalty Queens Makenzie and Madison Aaron held a giveaway that included honoring their family members for supporting their year of service as Veterans Royalty.

Friday evening’s grand entry at 7 p.m. set the protocol that the rest of the Veterans Powwow would follow. Veterans lined up behind the Grand Ronde Honor Guard, which led the procession into the Powwow Grounds arbor to the pulsating beats delivered by host drum Bad Soul from Grand Ronde.

As Public Affairs Administrative Assistant Chelsea Clark smudged the powwow arena, the Honor Guard of Grand Ronde Elder Alton Butler and Wayne Chulik (Tlingit) holding eagle staffs began leading veterans into the arbor. Veterans Special Event Board Chairman Steve Bobb Sr. carried the U.S. flag, Al Miller carried the Oregon flag, Daniel Helfrich carried the MIA/POW flag and Tribal Elder Raymond Petite carried the Grand Ronde flag.

Approximately 30 veterans followed as did Leno, Polk County Commissioner Jennifer Wheeler, Tribal Council Secretary Jon A. George and fellow Tribal Council members Denise Harvey, Brenda Tuomi, Tonya Gleason-Shepek, Jack Giffen Jr. and Chris Mercier.

A second honor guard, Veterans Color Guard from Jefferson, Ore., also participated in the grand entry dressed in red, white and blue ribbon shirts. Members included Air Force veteran Bill Stam (Lakota), Navy veteran Wes Weathers (Cherokee), Air Force veteran Tobie Davie (Cherokee), Judy Suitor (Apache), Army veteran Wayne Dow, Navy veteran Shane Cardwell (Lakota), and Air Force veterans Mike Forest (Cherokee) and Cat Sanderson (Rosebud Lakota).

Arena director Carlos Calica (Warm Springs) choreographed the entrance, keeping the line orderly as master of ceremonies Nick Sixkiller (Oklahoma Cherokee), a Navy veteran, asked audience members to honor “the protectors of this great country” as they entered the arena. Tony Whitehead (Umatilla) and Linda Meanus (Warm Springs) were head dancers.

Bobb delivered the invocation and Leno gave a welcoming speech. George then presented Leno, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Marine Corps, with a necklace to thank him for his military service and 21 years on Tribal Council.

“He had asked me to make a necklace actually for somebody else,” George said. “But when I was doing that, I thought of him, too. This gentleman has been a leader here of this Tribe for 21 years. He has decided to kind of retire from us here, but he’s not going away as he tells us. … Today, I would like to honor him though with a Vietnam veteran’s necklace that he so richly deserves.”

Approximately 30 veterans lined up to introduce themselves before powwow dancing started to the Native songs pounded out by Bad Soul, Turquoise Pride, Johonaaii Singers, Big Eagle Singers and Awakening Thunder. Friday night’s dancing continued until 10 p.m., Sixkiller said.


Saturday afternoon popular

Saturday afternoon’s Grand Entry more than doubled the number of veterans who lined up to be honored by a much larger crowd and included Eugene-area Tribal Elder Monty Parazoo, who served in the Navy from 1960-66.

Russell received a special medal of valor, as did veteran Andy Gomez, who lost two legs and an arm in Vietnam. Gomez received a Purple Heart pen to go along with his Purple Heart.

All veterans received a medal of valor distributed by the Tribe’s Veterans Special Event Board and the Yakama Warriors distributed “welcome home” pins and a Vietnam War veteran eagle pin. The Medal of Valor read “awarded for valorous service to a grateful nation” on one side and featured a bald eagle head and U.S. flag on the other side.

Tribal Elder and former Tribal Council member Wink Soderberg, a Navy veteran from the Korean War era, was honored by the Veterans Special Event Board with a two-night’s stay at the Inn at Spanish Head in Lincoln City.

The Veterans Powwow, which recently has been held in torrid heat or rainy, cool conditions, experienced temperate weather with highs only reaching the low 80s, which was quite comfortable for attendees under the shade of the arbor canvas.

“This is great weather for powwowing,” Leno said during his Friday night welcoming speech. “This is about as good as you can get.”

Grand entries also were held at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 8, and again at 1 p.m. Sunday, July 9.

The Veterans Powwow attracted people from far and wide. Tony Spotted Elk (Oglala/Lakota) said he came from the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota to honor veterans and see the arbor for himself.

“I’ve always wanted to visit your new arena,” Spotted Elk, 55, said on Saturday afternoon. “We’ve seen it in the paper and online. We’re just glad to be here, basically. Real excited.”

“The enthusiasm was good,” Bobb said. “The powerful impact of the Pearl Harbor survivor and the Vietnam veteran amputee brought the reality of what war does physically to people and what those of us who witnessed these events live with every day.

“Veterans deserve respect and recognition, but mankind deserves a world surrounded by love, peace and caring.”

In both of his welcoming speeches, Leno honored Army veteran Marce Norwest, who walked on in 2011, for starting the Veterans Powwow.

“I love this powwow and we always got to acknowledge Marce Norwest,” Leno said on Saturday afternoon. “I was one of them ones (who said) ‘Yeah, I’m a veteran,’ but I didn’t do much. He was the one that actually said, ‘No, if you’re a veteran, you need to let people know you’re a veteran.’ So with that Marce and Steve and I and a bunch of us got involved and we did that beautiful memorial down at our Governance building. … Marce had our first Veterans Powwow. I don’t think he ever probably thought we’d be in this beautiful arbor doing one, but I know he is looking down and proud of each and every one of our veterans.”


Includes information from the Albany Democrat-Herald.