For one female Navy pioneer, she continued to lead the way as the head woman dancer at a recent Native American Veterans Association Annual Veterans Appreciation and Heritage Day Pow Wow here.
Linda Old Horn-Purdy, retired Navy chief petty officer, from the Crow tribe, was one of the first females in the Navy to serve on a combatant ship. Her journey began on the Crow Agency reservation in Montana.
"I grew up around very traditional grandparents, and my father would pass down stories. We had oral history," she said. "They would teach us from our ancestors. Nothing was written down. I grew up knowing some of my language but my first language was English. I went to school off the reservation, so I lived in both worlds."
She said it was a culture shock, when she went to the school off the reservation, but she had to adapt. She said she joined the military for the benefits such as education, training and travel.
"I needed a place to sleep, something to eat and for me, that was good enough, and to learn, that was the main reason," she said humbly. She said she can relate to other military people coming from other countries who are just glad to have some place to sleep, eat and work.
When she got to her ship in 1985, she found out she was among the first group of women on her deployed ship and then in 1999, she found out she was among the first group of women on a combatant ship.
"It was hard but we had to adapt if we wanted to continue and learn and do our job," she said. She was in engineering but wasn't allowed to call herself a machinist at that time. She said at the three-year mark, the career field opened up to women.
"I ended up becoming a machinist, one of the first women in there," she said. "I ended up advancing quickly through that because not too many people wanted to be in there. I don't know if it was because I was naive or young, but I used to think, 'I'm going to be tough. I'm Indian. I'm going to make it.' It was hard to learn the theories and engineering principles. I'm thankful for the co-workers who helped me through it. It was hard, but I got through it.
"I'm appreciative of those particular men who would look beyond my race and gender and would try to teach me and help me to think the way I should think so I have a lot to be thankful for. They helped me learn," she said.
Serving in the military is also a Native American tradition. Her fraternal grandfather, Allen Old Horn served in the Army in World War II and her maternal grandfather, George Thompson, was in the Navy in World War II. Her great uncles Barney and Henry Old Coyote, World War II, and great-grandfather James Red Fox, World War I, were code talkers.
"Linda comes from a long legacy of Chiefs," said her father, Sarge Old Horn Sr. "Her great grandfathers were Chief Sits In The Middle of Land, or otherwise known as Chief Blackfoot, married, "Wia Waste, who was the sister to Chief Man Afraid of His Horse. On the Blackfoot side of her relations is, Old Coyote's mother, "Snake Woman," who is the sister to Mountain Chief. Old Coyote fought as a Crow."
Old Horn-Purdy said her dad encouraged her throughout her time in the military and is proud of her time in the uniform.
She said Native Americans have defended America since the beginning.
"Native Americans weren't given medals or accolades that we get now for defending America," she said. "But we still have to protect America, no matter what. It's in our blood."
She encourages people to attend Pow Wows in their communities to learn more about Native American culture.
"You don't have to be Indian to be at a Pow Wow," she said. "Many people don't know anything about Indians so it's great to educate them about us because Indians have a different viewpoint and different stories. It's good for people to learn and see what we're all about."