Parade features indigenous honor and history

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WASHINGTON – When George Washington traveled from his home in Mount Vernon, N.Y. to New York City to be sworn in at the first inauguration, he was escorted by one civilian and one military aid.

When President Barack Obama is inaugurated on Jan. 20, more than 5,000 men and women in uniform will provide military ceremonial support, and among them will be veterans and others representing 11 American Indian and Alaska Native nations.

Indigenous people from Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Wisconsin will take part in the inaugural parade. They will be among representatives from across the country in the historic parade down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House, following the presidential swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the Capitol.

A week before the parade, Wes Long Feather, chief of staff to United Tribes Technical College President David Gipp, was fielding calls and pulling all the threads together in coordinating the 20-member delegation for the trip to Washington.

“It’s an enormous honor to be a part of this. The entire event is historic, for sure. It’s something I’ll carry with me the rest of my life and I’ll share with others just exactly what it was like to be there,” Long Feather said.

The UTTC in Bismarck, N.D., represents five of the 11 tribes that participated in the parade: Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold, Spirit Lake Tribe, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

A veteran of Desert Storm, Long Feather is not only coordinating the trip, but also participating in the march.

North Dakota senators Byron Dorgan, the chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and Kent Conrad, along with other elected officials asked UTTC to represent the five tribes as well as the state, Long Feather said.

“What do you say to that? Of course you don’t say no. We said we’d be honored to take on the task of representing our tribes and the state.”

At the front of the 20-member delegation will be a UTTC banner, followed by a marcher carrying the college’s eagle staff. Other marchers will carry the U.S. flag, the P.O.W. flag, the college flag and flags representing the five tribes.

Miss Indian Nation and her chaperone will also participate in the march as well as a group of dancers and singers wearing traditional regalia.

Because of the amount of marching, standing, walking and waiting younger – or sturdier – veterans were selected who were in the current Middle East conflict back to the Desert Storm war.

In Alaska, the 25-member Suurimmanitchuat Eskimo Dance Group, led by elder Warren Matumeak, had to fundraise for the trip.

“We are all so excited,” member Rex Okakok Sr. told the online Alaska Dispatch. “We couldn’t believe that this was actually going to happen.”

The Inupiaq word suurimmanitchuat roughly translates to, “I don’t give a damn,” which was a word used in one of the group’s first songs around 1990. The dance group didn’t have a name then, so the community began to call them the Suurimmanitchuats, which eventually stuck.

“It’s Eskimo humor,” Okakok said.

When asked what the group would look like and how they would dress, he said, “Not like Sarah Palin,” and then he laughed, according to the report.

The dance group has traveled to China and was one of three Alaskan native dance groups invited to attend the grand opening ceremony of the National Museum of the American Indian in D.C.

“I am honored to invite these talented groups and individuals to participate in the inaugural parade,” the soon-to-be-president said in a statement. “These organizations embody the best of our nation’s history, diversity and commitment to service. Vice President-elect Biden and I are proud to have them join us in the parade.”

Kerry Metoxen, the director of Wisconsin’s Oneida Nation Veterans, organized the delegation’s participation in the 56th Inaugural Parade.

Five veterans from the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin Inc. will comprise the tribe’s color guard: Tom Webster, a peace veteran; Jerry Danforth a 30-year navy veteran; Tim Ninham, who served on the USS Independence aircraft carrier; Jerry Cornelius, a Vietnam veteran; and Marty Antone, who saw combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Imagine how lucky I am to be an American in this country and do something like that. I also have pride to represent my tribe and the veterans,” Antone told a local TV station.

While his colleagues were to wear military uniforms, Webster will wear traditional Oneida Tribe regalia and plans to carry the tribe’s eagle staff.

“It’s a big event. I didn’t realize how big it was,” Metoxen said. “When the official word came out we were bombarded by TV stations and radios and different people from all over the country. It’s been snow balling. It’s a huge historic event. This trip to Washington is an honor.”

Although he is a 20-year veteran of the air force, Metoxen will not be joining his colleagues on the march. “I’ve been to D.C. a handful of times and it’s kind of neat to let the other guys go.”

Other tribes that will participate include the Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai in Idaho, and the Crow Nation of Montana.

The Crow Nation adopted Obama into the tribe when he visited the reservation May 19 during the election campaign. Obama was given a Crow name, which translates to “One who helps people throughout the land.”

Robert Old Horn, executive assistant to the Crow Nation Chairman Carl Venne, said Crow Nation parade participants will ride painted horses single file, while wearing special traditional regalia.

“We want to celebrate and support not only the President of the United States of America, but also celebrate with one of our own,” Old Horn said. “We feel very humbled, but also proud that we will be able to come forward with our support.”